MARKHAM, Ont. — Thanks to the efforts of a company based in Burlington, Ontario, an Ontario beekeeper, and the technology transfer team of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, ozone sterilization is on the verge of becoming a reality in North America’s honey industry.

Jim Simpson, representing Simpson Environmental, expressed that the implementation of ozone sterilization in the honey industry would be groundbreaking work. As ozone sterilization is already a widely adopted practice in water treatment systems, he believes it can also be used to sterilize boxes, frames, and honeycombs, effectively eliminating insect and disease pests and reducing pesticide residues in the honey industry.

With the cooperation of Mike Parker from Parker-Bee Apiaries in Beamsville, Ontario, Simpson collaborated with the technology team to transform a refrigerated trailer into a mobile unit for ozone treatment.

According to Simpson, ozone is a form of electrified oxygen that contains a third molecule of oxygen. To sterilize the stacked hive equipment, Simpson injects the gas at the top of the sealed trailer, as it is denser than air. The ozone is then circulated throughout the trailer, and its potent oxidizing properties facilitate the sterilization process.

A 53-foot prototype has been created, comprising a 43-foot sterilization chamber and a 10-foot control room, with safety measures being a crucial factor in its development. Although ozone can be detected in nature following a lightning strike, it is harmful to humans when present in elevated concentrations.

Simpson stated that the quantity of treatment applied to the combs is considerable, with measurements reaching thousands of parts per million.

According to Les Eccles from the OBA’s tech transfer team, ozone sterilization is utilized to manage disease in potatoes that are in storage.

Further investigation will take place during the upcoming summer to refine the ozone concentration, treatment duration, temperature, and humidity. The goal is to establish a commercial system by the following autumn, enabling beekeepers to treat their equipment post-honey extraction.

Simpson, Eccles, and Parker-Bee Apiaries are expanding on the work of Rosalind James, who conducted research at the Pollinating Insects Research Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Utah.

Initially, James accomplished positive results in using ozone to regulate insect pests and diseases found in hive equipment, such as the wax moth, the bacteria responsible for American foulbrood, and the fungus that leads to chalk brood.

Nevertheless, managing pesticides, including those employed by beekeepers to manage mites, is more challenging.

“Ozone was observed to be less efficient in eradicating pesticides in aged comb during our experiments, but more successful in new comb,” James and her colleagues stated in a research paper published last year by the Journal of Agricultural Science.

To avoid the accumulation of pesticide residue in honeycomb, beekeepers could implement a method involving the usage of new comb, annual treatment with ozone, and more frequent replacement of combs than what is typical in the United States and Canada. Perhaps, replacing the combs every few years instead of utilizing them for decades would be more beneficial, according to the recommendation.

Eccles mentioned that ozone treatment is efficient in combating the active components present in Checkmite and Apistan Strips. However, it is not advantageous for neonicotinoid insecticides, which are not stored in wax but can be problematic in honey and pollen, as per his statement.

April Parker from Parker-Bee expressed that the family-owned company experienced significant bee mortality rates in late autumn this year, which might be connected to the consumption of stored corn pollen tainted with insecticides by the bees.