The latest buzz on power lines

The latest buzz on power lines

We’ve seen that wireless radiation harms bees and other insects. But what about high voltage powerlines? Can they affect these vital pollinators, too?

A new study from Poland suggests that they can.1

The magnetic fields [MFs] from high voltage powerlines have been linked with childhood leukemia and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified fields of above 4 mG (one five-hundredth of the level allowed by Australian & international limits) as a Class 2B (possible) carcinogen.

Dr Pawel Migdal, from the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Science in Poland, and his team were interested to see if these fields would affect bees as well. Bees play a vital role in pollination. He says, ‘It is estimated that 75% of main crops need animal pollinators. The financial benefits of pollinators are estimated at USD 153 billion, or 9.5% of the total value of the world food market.’

Further, bees are known to have a magnetic sense, as do animals such as dolphins, sea turtles, salmon, wasps and molluscs.

To see whether bees would be affected by high magnetic fields, such as those emitted by high voltage power lines, the researchers exposed one-day-old worker honeybees to a 50 Hz magnetic field generated in a laboratory. The bees were exposed to fields of 10,000 mG or 17,000 mG for 10 minutes, one hour or three hours.

The researchers filmed the exposed and unexposed bees and compared seven types of behaviour, including walking, flight, body cleaning, contact between individuals, wing movement, stillness and loss of balance.

They found that ‘All groups exposed to MF presented significant differences in behaviour compared to the control [unexposed group].’ One of the obvious differences was loss of balance, where bees fell from the walls of their enclosure, landing upside down on the floor. The researchers described this as a ‘disturbing symptom’ and observed that it did not occur in any of the unexposed bees.

These changes in behaviour could negatively impact bees’ success in foraging and pollination, the authors said.

The results of the study are consistent with those found in a 1981 investigation in which the authors observed disturbances to bee colonies exposed to high magnetic fields. 2

The magnetic fields that the bees were exposed to in Migdal’s study were generated in a laboratory and so differed from real-life exposures in a number of ways. Firstly, the magnetic fields were much higher than would normally be found at ground level under high voltage powerlines. Further, they did not have the additional spikes and troughs (transients) that are normally present in electricity that passed through the power grid, turning it into what is sometimes described as ‘dirty’ electricity.

Nevertheless, the study suggests that we need to consider the potential for bees to be impacted by man-made electromagnetic fields and locate bee colonies away from them as a precaution.

  1. Migdał P, Berbeć E, Bieńkowski P, Plotnik M, Murawska A, Latarowski K. Exposure to Magnetic Fields Changes the Behavioral Pattern in Honeybees (Apis mellifera L.) under Laboratory Conditions. Animals. 2022; 12(7):855.

  2. Greenberg, B.; Bindokas, V.P.; Frazier, M.J.; Gauger, J.R. Response of Honey Bees, Apis mellifera L., to High-Voltage Transmission Lines 1. Environ. Èntomol. 1981, 10, 600–610.

What can you do?

  • Spare a thought for the poor honey bee. Plant some bee-attracting flowers.

  • Would you like to know what magnetic fields are in and around your home? You can measure them with our PF5 magnetic field (gauss) meters, now available at a reduced price.

  • Check out our recent blogs on bees. 

You can also…

  • forward this email to others to inform them, too

  • see the latest news in our May newsletter EMR and Health here

  • book a phone consultation to find answers to your questions here