Health care

Blueberries and Green Beans Join EWG's 19th Dirty Dozen List

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Careful with that cobbler, and watch out for your casseroles: With the release of its 19th Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, the Environmental Working Group has added both blueberries and green beans to the Dirty Dozen, a list of twelve conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables carrying the highest pesticide load.

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Blueberries and Green Beans: Where Do They Fall on the Dirty Dozen List?

Green beans are 12th on the list, with more than 70% of conventionally-grown green beans testing positive for at least two types of pesticides. 

According to EWG’s analysis of the latest FDA and Department of Agriculture testing data, comprising 46,569 samples of 46 fruits and vegetables and covering 251 different pesticides, conventionally grown blueberries boast an average 54 different pesticides, with nearly 80 percent of blueberry samples having at least two pesticides and more than 90 percent at least one, up from 81 percent in 2014.

Nine percent of blueberry samples were found to carry malathion, which was classified as “probably” carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. A newcomer on this year’s list, blueberries are the 11th most contaminated item.

Green beans, meanwhile, landed in 12th place on the list, with more than 70 percent of conventional green beans having at least two pesticides and a combined 84 different pesticides found on the crop on the whole. Notably, 6 percent of green bean samples had acephate residues — despite the fact that this toxic pesticide was banned for use on green beans by the EPA over a decade ago.

“The presence of acephate, which is a neurotoxic insecticide, on green beans, is concerning given EPA’s action on this chemical and highlights issues within the regulatory system,” says Temkin. Its presence, he continues, was “very unexpected,” especially given that it was sometimes detected “at levels hundreds of times higher than the EPA limit.”

Both new additions to the list have “troubling” amounts of organophosphate insecticides, according to EWG; these pesticides have been linked to nervous system dysregulation. And in both cases, some of these chemicals detected on the produce have been banned in Europe or even here in the U.S.

What Other Produce Should You Avoid?

Blueberries and green beans are the newest kids on the Dirty Dozen block. 

Seventy-five percent of non-organic produce consumed in the U.S. is contaminated with pesticides, according to EWG, and all of the produce on the Dirty Dozen had at least one pesticide sample. The goal of the list is to help consumers suss out the danger zones in the produce aisle and avoid highly-contaminated items whenever possible.

EWG recommends buying organic versions of the produce featured on the list, which also features strawberries, spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, grapes, bell peppers, hot peppers, and cherries.

But it’s not all bad news. In tandem with the Dirty Dozen, EWG also releases a yearly Clean Fifteen: those items that, even conventionally grown, are least likely to be contaminated by pesticides. This year, carrots join the list, replacing cantaloupe in 15th place. The Clean Fifteen also features avocados, sweetcorn, pineapple, onions, papaya, frozen peas, asparagus, honeydew, kiwi, cabbage, mushrooms, mangoes, sweet potatoes, and watermelon.

Potential Hazards of Pesticides

Pesticide residues on food can be harmful, which is why the EWG created the Dirty Dozen list.

Pesticide contamination has been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and brain and nervous system toxicity, according to EWG. And while most pesticide residues found fall below government limits, legal limits don’t always translate to safety. Research published by EWG in 2020 found that the EPA frequently fails to “adequately” consider children in setting 90 percent of these limits, meaning that households with kids should be particularly vigilant when purchasing fruit and veg.

“For pesticide residues in foods, legal doesn’t always mean safe,” cautions Temkin. “Pesticide limits are set by looking at one pesticide at a time and don’t consider exposure to the multiple pesticides present in fruits and vegetables.”

This year’s Dirty Dozen list was released thirty years after a landmark study warning of the potential health hazards of pesticides for children. 

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