Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania), Patricia Lowry
Published April 15, 2009
The last thing the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Environmental Working Group wants to do is discourage people from eating fruits and vegetables. It just wants them to make smarter choices that minimize their exposure to pesticides.
Because pesticides have been shown to have carcinogenic and other adverse health effects in humans, the Environmental Protection Agency sets pesticide residue levels for fruits and vegetables. But the Environmental Working Group argues, in essence, that the EPA tolerance levels are too high, because not enough studies have been done to measure the effects of low-level and multiple pesticide exposure, especially on children and fetuses.
After analyzing results of 87,000 government tests conducted between 2000 and 2007, the Environmental Working Group developed a Dirty Dozen list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables, which they recommend people should always buy organic. Shockingly, considering the results, almost all the studies used to create the list tested produce after it had been rinsed or peeled.
Seven of the Dirty Dozen are fruits: peaches, apples, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears and imported grapes.
Peaches and apples each had the most pesticides -- nine -- detected on a single sample, followed by strawberries and imported grapes, with eight pesticides found on a single sample. As a group, nectarines had the highest percentage of samples testing positive for pesticides (97.3 percent), followed by peaches (96.7 percent) and apples (94.1 percent).
Peaches also had the most pesticides overall, with 53 pesticides found in various combinations on the samples tested, followed by apples with 50 pesticides and strawberries with 38.
Among vegetables, sweet bell peppers, celery, kale, lettuce, and carrots are the highest pesticide carriers. Sweet bell peppers had the most pesticides on a single sample (11), followed by kale (10), then lettuce and celery (nine). Celery had the highest percentage of samples testing positive for pesticides (94.1 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (81.5 percent) and carrots (82.3 percent). Celery also had the greatest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single vegetable (79.8 percent of samples), followed by sweet bell peppers (62.2 percent) and kale (53.1 percent).
Sweet bell peppers also had the most pesticides overall, with 64 found in various combinations on the samples tested, followed by lettuce with 57 and carrots with 40.
Don't despair; there's also a Clean Fifteen list of produce least likely to have pesticide residues. Among fruits, they are avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, papayas, watermelon and grapefruit. The vegetables least likely to have pesticides are onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.
Dirty Dozen: Should buy organic:
3. Bell Pepper
10. Grapes (if imported)
Clean 15: Don't have to buy organic:
3. Sweet Corn
7. Sweet peas
14. Sweet Potato