Washington, D.C. – Environmental Working Group charged today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to tell Americans – as required under federal law - that they have a right to know about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways they can reduce pesticides in their diets.
Because the EPA has not complied in full with the Congressional mandate, for more than a decade EWG has stepped in to fill the void by publishing its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. EWG aims to help people eat healthy and reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce.
“EWG’s Shopper’s Guide helps people find conventional fruits and vegetables with low concentrations of pesticide residues,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst and principle author of the report. “If a particular item is likely to be high in pesticides, people can go for organic.”
The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 required EPA to assess pesticides in light of their particular dangers to children and to ensure that pesticides posed a “reasonable certainty of no harm” to children or any other high-risk group. One provision of the act required that EPA inform people about possible hazards to their health brought about consuming pesticides with their food. The agency provides some information on its website, but it does not list foods likely to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues nor those that pose the greatest dangers to human health. Most importantly, it does not offer the “right to know” information Congress required on behalf of consumers in 1996: how to avoid pesticide exposures while still eating a healthy diet.
Apples topped this year’s annual Dirty Dozen list of most pesticide-contaminated produce for the fourth year.
Other fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen are strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and imported snap peas. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health. EWG details this problem in a section called Dirty Dozen-Plus.
EWG's Clean Fifteen consists of conventional produce with the least amount of pesticide residues. Avocados were the cleanest, with only 1 percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. Other items on the list include corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
The guide ranks 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 32,000 samples tested by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration.
In the latest report, 65 percent of the samples analyzed tested positive for pesticide residues.
Pesticides have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption and abnormal brain and nervous system development, among other health problems. For these reasons, in 2012 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report asserting that children have “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.” The pediatricians’ organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life and “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” It said parents should consult “reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables.” One key resource, it said, was EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
Conventional farming with pesticides is the number one source of drinking water contamination in the U.S. It also harms wildlife and farm workers.
Other notable findings:
- Every sample of imported nectarines tested and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
- The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
- A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries tested positive for 13 different pesticides apiece.
- Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
- No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen list tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
To rank produce, EWG analysts use six metrics including, the total number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides.
Conventionally-grown apples have high concentrations of pesticides, primarily because of chemicals applied to the crop after harvest to preserve their appearance during long months of cold storage. EWG analysts reported last week that diphenylamine, or DPA for short, an antioxidant that prevents apple skin from discoloring during storage, was detected on more than 80 percent of raw apples in 2010, the most recent year they were tested. In 2012, DPA was banned for use on fruit grown in the European Union because of concerns it could form cancer-causing nitrosamines.
“For decades, various toxic pesticides were claimed to be ‘safe’ — until they weren’t, and either banned or phased out because they posed risks to people,” said Lunder. “While regulators and scientists debate these and other controversies about pesticide safety, EWG will continue drawing attention to the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide loads.”