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Bees and Smart Meters

Cell Phone and bees

Cell Phone and bees

by Jan TenBruggencate

I am a beekeeper and I also sit on the board of KIUC. When anti-smart meter sites began trumpeting reports that smart meters kill bees, I was concerned. I did the research. The short version: This statement is false.

There is no evidence I could find that smart meters kill or cause any harm at all to bees, and no evidence that even stronger household sources of radiofrequency harm bees. What the research does say is that if you take a powerful source of RF radiation (like one or even more cell phones or cordless telephones) and if you actually place it inside a bee hive, it perturbs the bees.  But if you reduce the power by half with shielding, according to a German study, then there is no detectable sign of bee anxiety or altered behavior.

I work my bees with my cell phone on my hip, and I detect no change in bee behavior.  I know other Kaua`i beekeepers who also handle their bee hives with their cell phones nearby.

I went so far as to place two different live cell phones at the entrances to two different hives in the Lihue area. As far as I could tell, the bees did not behave differently. They continued coming and going, departing to forage, and returning with pollen and nectar. When I put a little honey on the face of an active Motorola Atrix cellphone, the bees ate the honey right off the glass.

None of the studies I looked at suggests that smart meters, or even the more powerful cell phones, kill bees. They do say that bees exhibit specific stress reactions to strong radiofrequency signals placed inside their hives.  The stress reactions researchers found include “piping,” which are sounds that indicate unrest.  And one study detected a small but statistically significant reduction in timely returns to the hive by foraging bees.

Jan TenBruggencate

Jan TenBruggencate. Photo by Anne E. O'Malley

But I will also note that bees exhibit reactions from just being messed with. If these researchers were regularly lifting the hive tops, sticking stuff into the hive and removing frames to make their measurements, those activities alone could have caused strong stress reactions. Every beekeeper knows that you want to minimize the amount of time you’re spending fooling around inside your hives. It’s not clear the researchers knew this; none of them mentions it.

As a longtime science writer, I note that one of the sad results of the misinterpretation of the bee studies is that it undermines science.  Here’s what one of the authors of a German Study, Stefan Kimmel, said in a New York Times story.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/22/technology/22iht-wireless23.1.5388309.html)

“It’s not my fault if people misinterpret our data,” said Kimmel. “Ever since The Independent wrote their article, for which they never called or wrote to us, none of us have been able to do any of our work because all our time has been spent in phone calls and e-mails trying to set things straight. This is a horror story for every researcher to have your study reduced to this. Now we are trying to force things back to normal.”

Speaking for myself, I fully support KIUC’s smart grid program. I believe the meters are safe, and that they are crucial to our management of the electrical grid of the future. That grid will involve much less utility-owned fossil fuel generation and much more distributed renewable generation. Our members need to be our partners in this change, and a smart meter helps turn the grid into a two-way street.

For more information on Smart Meters visit http://website.kiuc.coop/content/bees-and-smart-meters

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