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BeeWatch (2023-2024)

Use of honeybees, honey and other apiary products for biomonitoring of low-level radioactive phosphogypsum dumps.

More than three-quarters of the phosphate fertilizers produced worldwide are manufactured using phosphoric acid as an intermediate, leaving 4–6 t of low-level radioactive phosphogypsum (PG) per t of P2O5 produced as a relevant by-product/waste. It must be assumed that the demand for gypsum in connection with the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants in the EU and the resulting reduced supply of FGD gypsum from flue gas desulfurization plants (FGD) will soon increase sharply. PG could replace the lack of supply of FGD gypsum in the EU. The largest PG stocks in the EU (totaling around 2 billion t) are located in Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Kosovo, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Finland. The large-scale, industrial mining of finely powdered, low-level radioactive PG heaps could lead to new environmental risks and permanent, relatively expensive aerial surveillance of the relevant mining areas would be necessary to ensure that the local population is not exposed to unnecessary risk. The "BeeWatch" project aims to investigate whether honeybees, as passive samplers, can offer such a service at low cost. Honeybees are already being used voluntarily by airport operators for air surveillance at various airports. A bee colony can cover an estimated area of 3-12 km2, which corresponds well with the typical size of PG landfills.

With an interdisciplinary team of experts specializing in either the processing and management of PG (7 institutions) or biomonitoring with bees (6 institutions), it is now to be determined whether biomonitoring with honeybees, honey, and other beekeeping products from PG landfills could represent long-term added value for the EU (project year 1). If this is the case, the consortium will submit a more extensive follow-up application in project year 2 in order to carry out the first pilot tests.

"This project was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under Bridge2ERA2021 (Grant No. 100579052)".

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