Are beeswax cappings contaminated with pesticides?

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $3,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Elizabeth LeGall
Meadows Edge Farm


  • Animal Products: beeswax


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems


    Beeswax cappings obtained during honey extraction from 10 apiaries in Virginia and North Carolina were analyzed for pesticide residue. One sample (10%) had no contaminants detected. Nine samples (90%) contained one or more detectable contaminants, but overall contained 50% fewer contaminants than found in beeswax foundation. The top two contaminants were fluvalinate and coumaphos but at significantly lower levels than found in foundation samples in a previously published report. Although the sample size was small, results suggest capping wax is a potential source of less contaminated wax for use in creating wax foundation for honey bee brood chambers.


    Honey bees as primary pollinators are vital to successful agriculture. The ongoing decline of honey bee colonies threatens crop production and the food supply. Since 2006, one-third of honey bee colonies in this country have been lost over winter. In 2011, 39% of Virginia colonies and 30% of North Carolina colonies did not survive the winter. The overwinter losses as well as continued losses from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have lead to multiple research projects investigating the link between pesticides, overall colony health and CCD. Most chemical residues are lipid soluble and accumulate in wax. Research has shown, over time, the accumulated pesticides can have harmful effects on developing bee brood that is reared in the wax cells. Beekeepers have been advised to rotate out old frames of beeswax on a regular basis and replace with new frames of beeswax foundation for the honey bees to create new wax comb to raise developing brood. Unfortunately, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found commercially available beeswax foundation can have very high levels of pesticides(1). All samples of commercially available beeswax foundation they tested were contaminated with a total of 27 pesticides. The top two contaminates were fluvalinate and coumaphos, pesticides some beekeepers use to control Varroa mites. Of the samples tested, 100% contained fluvalinate and 95% contained coumaphos, at alarmingly high levels. These findings are of considerable concern since purchasing beeswax foundation appears to be a route of placing high levels of pesticides inside honey bee colonies even for beekeepers practicing chemical-free beekeeping.

    Honey bees store nectar from flowers in honeycomb. It is converted to honey then “capped” by the bees with a layer of new white wax when the honey is cured. It is at this point the beekeeper knows the honey is ready for harvesting. On harvesting, the white wax “cappings” are removed and the honey extracted. The cappings are typically melted down for various uses such as making candles. Since the cappings are in the hive for such a short period of time and chemical treatments are not permitted in the hive while honey is being collected for human consumption, it is less likely it has been exposed to pesticides. Wax cappings could provide a potential source of uncontaminated or less contaminated wax to be used as foundation in the brood chamber. Prior to this project, no research project has investigated pesticide residue in wax cappings.

    1. Mullin CA, Frazier M, Frazier JL, Ashcraft S, Simonds R, et al. (2010) High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009754

    Project objectives:

    The objective was to determine if beeswax cappings would be a potential source of uncontaminated or less contaminated wax for use in making wax foundation for use in honey bee brood chambers.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.