Collard and mustard greens join kale among the most pesticide-contaminated fresh produce on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2021 Dirty Dozen list. For the first time, bell peppers and hot peppers have made the list.
The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen together make up EWG’s annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which analyzes Department of Agriculture test data to identify which fresh fruits and vegetables are most and least contaminated with pesticide residues.
“Whether organic or conventionally grown, fruits and vegetables are critical components of a healthy diet,” said EWG toxicologist Thomas Galligan, Ph.D. “We urge consumers who are concerned about their pesticide intake to consider, when possible, purchasing organically grown versions of the foods on EWG’s Dirty Dozen, or conventional produce from our Clean Fifteen.”
This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) tests found residues of potentially harmful chemical pesticides on nearly 70% of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. Before testing fruits and vegetables, the USDA washes, scrubs and peels them, as consumers would.
Until this year, kale was alone in the number three spot on the Dirty Dozen. A total of 94 different pesticides were found on leafy greens, including neonicotinoids, or neonics. One sample of mustard greens had 20 different pesticides, and some kale and collard samples had as many as 17.
On all three types of greens, the pesticide most frequently detected by the USDA was DCPA, sold under the brand name Dacthal. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies DCPA as a possible human carcinogen, and the European Union banned it in 2009.
Neonics are the fastest-growing class of insecticides, despite a decade of research making it clear that they are highly toxic to honeybees and other pollinator species. Some studies on human health also suggest that exposure to neonics may be harmful to the developing fetus and to children.
Bell peppers and hot peppers, tested for the first time since 2012 and 2011, respectively, are also included in this year’s list at number 10. The USDA found 115 pesticides on peppers — the most, by far, on any item.
Bell peppers and hot peppers contain concerning levels of acephate and chlorpyrifos, respectively – organophosphate insecticides that can harm children’s developing brains and are banned from use on some crops in the U.S. and from all uses in the EU. In 2017, the EPA, under the Trump administration, rejected a proposed chlorpyrifos ban, allowing it to remain on the market and subsequently in foods.
Although no citrus fruits landed on the Dirty Dozen, this year’s Shopper’s Guide highlights the concerning levels of toxic pesticides found on these fruits, not only in USDA tests but also in independent laboratory tests commissioned by EWG.