Green beans join the Dirty Dozen™, tainted by a pesticide EPA banned over 10 years ago


You’d be forgiven for thinking that if the Environmental Protection Agency prohibits use of a pesticide on a certain crop, that chemical won’t end up on those vegetables when you buy them.

Think again, though, because green beans join the Dirty Dozen™ after tests detected traces of pesticides on nearly 90 percent of samples, including acephate, an insecticide that can damage our nervous systems and that the EPA banned from green beans for food use in 2011. Other pesticides that may cause harm to humans are also being detected more often.

One sample of non-organic green beans had acephate, the banned pesticide, at a level 500 times greater than the limit set by the EPA. And it doesn’t matter whether the beans were grown here or imported – many samples showed acephate far above this EPA limit. Even three organic samples of green beans grown in Mexico detected the chemical.

The findings are based on EWG’s analysis of Department of Agriculture tests of 841 samples of non-organic, or conventionally grown, green beans from 2020 and 2021, although the USDA could never test every single green bean that’s sold in U.S. supermarkets. Still, federal tests found traces of acephate or methamidophos, the more toxic chemical that is produced when acephate breaks down, on almost 7 percent of conventional green beans.

EWG and others have urged the EPA ban organophosphate insecticides from food because of what’s been proven about how these chemicals can harm people.

The agency has taken steps to safeguard produce, like banning the use of another insecticide, chlorpyrifos, on food last year due to worries about how it might damage children’s and workers’ health. The EPA acted even earlier on acephate with its 2011 decision to cancel approval for use of the insecticide on green beans grown for human consumption. The agency followed that in 2016 by severely decreasing the level of acephate allowed on green beans.

So why do USDA tests still show acephate at sometimes alarming levels on green beans sampled as recently as just a few years ago? The answer is a broken regulatory system. The fact this chemical is still found on green beans in grocery stores shows likely violations of EPA orders.

Green bean pesticide detections on the rise

Acephate isn’t the only reason green beans earn their spot on the Dirty Dozen. EWG’s comparison of USDA test results in 2016 and the more recent 2020/2021 data show:

  • Detectable residues on nearly 90 percent of samples, compared to less than 75 percent in 2016.
  • At least two pesticides on more than 70 percent, compared to just over 50 in 2016.
  • 17 different pesticides on one sample, compared to 12 in 2016.
  • 84 different pesticides were found on the entire crop, compared to 51 in 2016.

The EPA should step up efforts to ban pesticides known to harm human health – pesticides banned for use on food elsewhere, such as in the European Union. Pesticides prohibited by the EU but allowed in the U.S. and detected on green beans include:

  • Carbendazim, a fungicide classified as a possible carcinogen, which can also harm the reproductive system, on one in three samples
  • Bifenthrin, a pyrethroid insecticide classified as a possible carcinogen, which can also harm the nervous system, on about one in four samples.
  • Chlorothalonil, a fungicide that can damage DNA, on over 15 percent of samples.

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