The Marin Pollen Project

                                  By Linda Nave

bee on flowerEditor’s Note: The Marin Pollen Project cost over $10,000. The money was used to pay for the sample testing.  The San Geronimo Valley Planning Group was one of the first to step forward with a $700 donation.

Linda took the lead and monitored the project.


 M.E.A. McNeil of San Anselmo (Master Beekeeper & author) and Maryann Frazier  (Entomologist at Penn State University) have published the results of the 2012  Marin Pollen Project in the April 2014 issue of American Bee Journal. The article chronicles the development of the idea to test pollen from urban beekeepers, on through fundraising for the project, gathering up the beekeepers, taking the samples and the final results of the testing.

Since 2006 Maryann Frazier has headed up a team of scientists studying pollen samples from commercial beekeepers. The question she is seeking to answer is if pesticides concentrations in the hive play a role in CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).   

In 2011 Maryann presented the results of her nationwide study at a monthly meeting of the Marin Beekeepers Club.  Before that nights’ presentation, she and several beekeepers were chatting over dinner. The idea of doing the study at a community level was hatched.  Later, as Maryann completed her presentation to the Club she spontaneously tossed the idea out- ‘What would you guys think of doing this kind of study here?’ Ultimately 28 beekeepers, representing 27 sites throughout Marin took monthly samples and froze them for the study.  Testing of the samples was done in a USDA lab in Gastonia, North Carolina.  This is the only lab in existence that is capable of testing pollen for chemicals at parts per billion- the process was developed by Roger Simonds who runs the lab and happens to be a beekeeper.

The Project took place April – September of 2012.  The pollen samples were taken by individual beekeepers each month. The samples were labeled with date/location and frozen. Half way through and again, at the end of the project, the samples were packaged up in a freezer container and mailed to North Carolina where they were put in line on the back logged list of ‘things to do’ at the Gastonia Lab.

Maryann returned to Marin recently and presented the long awaited results.  The pollen samples from Marin and nationwide were screened for 171 chemical pesticides, metabolics, fungicides and herbicides. The nationwide results (since 2006) have returned 131 matches with individual samples containing an average of 6 to a maximum of 31 chemicals.  Notably DDT appeared which has been banned for over 20 years. 

The Marin samples seem almost pure by comparison with a total of 8 chemical matches. Individual samples contained a minimum of 0 to a max of five chemicals which were detected in Southern Marin from samples taken in June. Over all, Southern Marin had the highest number of chemical matches with detections in March, June, August and September. Central/ West Marin proved to be the cleanest. So…. according to the bees the area of Marin with the most farms has tested free of pesticides- they really are organic!

Bifenthrin, Cyhalothrin, Esfenvalerate, Imidacloprid are the chemicals found in Marin noted as pesticides considered to be highly toxic to bees. The later three were detected at trace levels. Bifenthrin was singled out as the one chemical of most concern, detected at levels of 9.6- 140ppb with 150ppb being the LD-50.

LD-50 is a mortality rating. Xppb = the amount that will kill at least 50% of bees exposed.

The Bifenthrin showed up in East Marin & Novato samples taken in March. It showed up again in June & September samples from Southern Marin. 

The product is used by homeowners on lawns to control grubs.  It seems that if skunks or raccoons detect grubs they will tear up the lawn to get at them. Here are some of the brand names that contain Bifenthrin: Talstar,8Maxxthor, Capture, Brigade, Bifenthrine, Ortho Home Defense Max, Bifen IT, Bifen L/P, Torant, Zipak, Scotts LawnPro Step 3, Wisdom, TC Flowable, FMC 54800 & OMS3024.  A trace 1.9ppb of Etoxazol which has an LD-50>200,000ppb showed up in March from Eastern Marin.  Boscalid, a fungicide with an LD-50 of 550,000ppb tested at 13.9-32.6ppb in March and June from Southern Marin.

beehiveFluvalinate & Thymol are the only chemicals that showed up in Central Marin/ West Marin area.  These are insecticides used by some beekeepers to control verroa mites, nasty little buggers, related to ticks that suck the juices from bees leaving them weak and susceptible to disease.

Thymol is an essential oil derived from Thyme.  It is advertised to Beekeepers as a treatment that will dissipate from the hive. The Pollen test results seem to show that may not be the case. Thymol showed up in Central/ West Marin in July and in Southern Marin in August & September samples. 

Fluvalinate showed up in all areas tested. Almost all of the beekeepers participating in the project have not treated their bees. So, where is the chemical coming from? A possible source is beeswax.  Most beekeepers use foundation, a thin sheet of wax or plastic dipped in wax stamped with a hexagon grid. The sheets are inserted in wooden frames and added to the beehive for the bees to draw out as comb.  There are only two sources in the US that make foundation- both use bees wax gathered from commercial bee keepers. The beeswax on foundation is contaminated with Fluvalinate.

The ppb of chemicals detected in Marin is low, but Maryann suspects’ further research is needed to understand synergies.  The EPA does not require testing of products that are used in combination.  There is evidence to show that some pesticides when used in combination with a fungicide can increase the morbidity rate by as much as 2,000 times.  Another area to explore is what happens under prolonged exposed to small amounts of chemicals? The EPA requires observation of chemical exposure for 2 days. The Penn State Team compared results when observation was extended to 4 days- in some cases results changed from little/no morbidity to significant morbidity. Studies extended from summer to winter need to be implemented, as well.

Maryann’s question- Is there a relationship between CCD and the level of chemicals in a hive?, is still unanswered. She believes there is strong evidence that chemicals are interfering with bees ability to fight off diseases and digest food.  One, of many examples, is bees gather and store pollen in the comb- same as they do with nectar which becomes honey (Honey does not contain fat so it does not absorb most chemicals the way pollen and wax can) .  The bees ferment the pollen into bee bread to make it digestible. Fungicides seem to be interfering with the fermentation process of the bee bread, as well as, possibly affecting the natural digestive flura of the bee intestine. It is not uncommon for a hive that suffered CCD to have stores of honey and pollen- yet all the bees have either vacated the hive or have died.                                 

Nationwide, reports from commercial beekeepers rate CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) loses at 30% per year, since 2009 Marin Beekeepers have tracked loses at 39% to as high as 53% per year. It is believed that the reason local losses are so much higher than national loses is due to Marin beekeepers commitment of developing survivor stock (untreated bees).

While chemical concentrations in hives seem to be playing a negative role, Maryann points out that there are other factors such as poor nutrition (mono cropping), mites, viruses and genetics sparring as prime suspects in the reduced immune function of bees.

While devoted scientists like Maryann tirelessly work to find answers and possible solutions- it is clear that the best way we, as beekeepers, homeowners, gardeners and/or activists can provide for the health of pollinators is to go organic.

Bee photos by Linda Nave, taken in Forest Knolls


Past Articles:



 Worker bees headed home with pollen, 09/16/12, Forest Knolls

Recently Bonnie Bollinger of Marin Beekeepers conducted a survey of the clubs 200 plus members. Here are a few comments about the data collected:

– In the four years Bonnie has conducted the survey this year represents the largest participation.

 – Overall, bee losses were down this year at 41.4% versus 52% to 53% over the last 3 years.  

– Beekeepers classifying themselves as “hobbyists” still experienced losses of 53%

– a larger number of beekeepers are keeping bees in multiple locations – and are keeping more hives per location.


Marin Pollen Project


In October, The Marin Pollen Project will send off the last of the pollen samples which have been collected by 40 different beekeepers located throughout the County.  The samples will be tested for chemical concentrations of 171 pesticides, accelerants and herbicides.  The goal is to access the health environment of the hive and analyze possible connections to Colony Collapse Disorder.  The study has been going on since 2007 with commercial beekeepers providing the samples.  This year represents the first time pollen samples have been taken by beekeepers from a community.

For those of you who may not be aware, the primary source of income for a commercial beekeeper is through pollination.  Commercial bees, trapped in their hives, are packed onto a semi truck and carted to farms where the hives are distributed across the fields and the bees are released.  The pollination season starts in February in California with the Almond orchards and continues through the year with beekeepers carting their bees to Washington, Idaho, across the Great Plains, New York and finished out the year by traveling down the Eastern Coast to Florida for the orange groves in December and January.

Marin’s participation in the Pollen Project will provide the study a unique opportunity to analyze data collected from one area. The Marin samples, which have been taken monthly, have been grouped according to watersheds. 

The San Geronimo Valley Planning Group was the first non-profit to support the Pollen Project with a donation of $300.  The Project successfully met its goal and raised the $10,000 needed to pay for costs associated with the chemical screening process.  We hope to have the results by the end of the year.



By Linda Nave

Editor’s Note:  In June 201,1 the Planning Group membership approved a $300 donation to sponsor bee hives in Forest Knolls and Lagunitas for this Pollen Study.  Subsequently, a PG member donated $300 to sponsor hives in Woodacre. For details about the Pollen Study in past Newsletters go to the PG website Click on Events & News.  Scroll down to PG Newsletter Archives.   Open pdf’s for June and July on the Pollen Study.


Pollen Study protocols will be decided in spring after an assessment of which hives successfully survived the winter season. The bees are currently in their hives clumped in a vibrating ball around the queen and the brood (bee larvae) keeping them at a perfect 96 degrees, no matter what the temperature drops to outside.  On sunny December days the intrepid forager bees will still venture out to collect pollen and nectar.  The pollen I’ve seen them bring back is either a pretty yellow orange or a bright white.  

Winter can be hard on the bees.  In spring, for the past three years, Marin Beekeepers has compiled a survey on survival rates of hives. We have 50-54% loss of hives over the winter; this is significantly lower than the national average of 30%. It is believed that the root of the high Marin rate of loss stems from the fact that most Marin beekeepers promote the philosophy of survival stock.  This is a difficult (heart breaking at times) means of keeping bees because when you see them struggling there is little you can do.  We do not treat our bees with any kind of insecticides (kills the mites that can infest the bees) or antibiotics.  The hope is that over time we will develop a genetically stable strain of bees that are adapted to Marin climates and have hygienic behaviors that provide a healthy disease free hive.   Watch for future updates of this important study.


The Marin Pollen Project


By Linda Nave

Marin Community Foundation has agreed to donate $1,000 to the Marin Pollen Project.  After collection of a few outstanding promised donations this will put the project at just over its goal of $10,000.  The project has commitments from 26 beekeepers with hives in 42 locations in Marin.

Marin Beekeepers will narrow the number of locations down to 30 by geographically mapping the various locations, selecting for even distribution.  So far it appears Sausalito, Ignacio/Hamilton area, and Nicasio are not represented in the study.  Interested beekeepers in those areas should contact Bonnie Bollinger of Marin Beekeepers,

During the 2012 bee season Beekeepers will take monthly pollen samples from their hives.  At the end of the study period, samples will be submitted to Penn State for testing by the USDA lab to then be analyzed by Penn State.   Samples will be screened for presence of 172 different chemicals.  While Penn State has tested over 1,100 hives since 2007, most have come from commercial bee colonies used in pollination.  Marin is the first community to participate in the study.  Marin Beekeepers will now complete finalizing testing protocol, developing the basis for other communities to participate in the future. 

The goal of the study is to gain empirical data on the chemical level in honeybee hives and analyze possible connections to colony collapse, a mysterious disease that has been linked to beekeepers reporting losses of 30 -90% of their hives.

The SGVPG has sponsored two Valley beekeepers Tim Crosse with hives in Woodacre & Robert Wilson and Linda Nave with hives in Lagunitas and Forest Knolls.


Past Articles:



Busy Valley Honeybees are looking for a Benefactor?Marin beekeepers, participating in the Marin Pollen Project, will take small bits of pollen as samples from their bee hives monthly during the 2012 bee season. The samples will be screened for residues of 172 different herbicides, pesticides, metabolites, accelerants, and other chemicals. Results from the screening will be available per test site and tabulated to include a possible 30 test sites geographically spread throughout Marin.

Robert Wilson and I have Honeybee hives in Lagunitas and Forest Knolls. The Planning Group has approved a $300 sponsorship for our participation in the Pollen Project. The Steering Committee is looking for a second benefactor who will buzz in with a matching sponsorship for testing hives in Woodacre. Testing hives at both ends of the Valley will provide us a clear picture of chemical concentrations in our area.

The honeybee is another ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ for all of us. Bees bring all of the persistent chemicals found in the environment, via pollen, back to their hive. Monitoring the chemicals found in bee pollen will help scientists understand how to help the bees and ultimately improve the health of our environment. Research has shown that homeowners use more chemicals per acre than commercial agriculture. We will be able to access if  homeowners are inadvertently playing a role in the decline of pollinator populations.

The Beekeepers are half way to their goal of raising $10,000 to offset the expenses associated with the chemical screening process. Over 40 beekeepers have requested to participate. The decision to include a site will be based on geographic location and the level of experience of the beekeeper. They are still looking for beekeepers in West Novato, Bel Marin Keyes and all the towns along the coast in West Marin.

Interested in learning more about Honeybees? There will be a class on August 20, “An Introduction to Honey Bees and the Life of a Colony.” Proceeds will benefit the Marin Pollen Project. For more information or to sponsor a hive go to When inputting payment information at the Comment Box – note – “Sponsorship for a hive in Woodacre.” Or email Beekeeper Bonnie Bollinger at

Editor’s note: The Planning Group just received an anonymous donation for the sponsorship of a second beehive in the Valley.