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Children at Risk from Pesticides on Fruits & Vegetables

Children at Risk from Pesticides on Fruits & Vegetables

YONKERS, New York, February 18, 1999 (ENS) - Even a single daily serving of some produce can deliver unsafe levels of toxic pesticide residues for young children, the Consumers Union said today.

In a comprehensive study based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the organization, which publishes the monthly Consumer Reports magazine, found seven popular fruits and vegetables - apples, grapes, green beans, peaches, pears, spinach, and winter squash - have toxicity scores up to hundreds of times higher than the rest of the foods analyzed.

Each score is based on three factors: how many samples of a food contained individual pesticides, and the average amount and toxicity of each pesticide.

Though virtually all the foods tested were within legal limits, those limits are often at odds with what the government considers safe for young children. Based on this analysis, Consumers Union will ask the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict or ban specific pesticide uses that expose children to residues above safe limits.

Just one insecticide, methyl parathion, accounts for most of the total toxicity of the foods analyzed, and its use is increasing on crops such as apples and green beans, the Consumers Union study found. Two out of five young children who eat a U.S. grown peach will get too much methyl parathion.

Fruits and vegetables analyzed were domestic and imported, fresh and processed. The organization analyzed the results of the testing done between 1994 and 1997 on 27 food categories, covering about 27,000 samples. A sample is about five pounds of produce.

Residue testing was done after samples were prepared as they usually are at home. Oranges and bananas were peeled, apples and peaches were rinsed.

"Our findings certainly don't mean that parents should stop giving their children plenty of healthful produce," said Dr. Edward Groth, technical policy and public service director at Consumers Union, "but these findings do suggest that parents might want to be careful about the amounts and types of fruits and vegetables they serve their children."

The study found that domestic produce had more, or more toxic, pesticides than imported produce in two-thirds of the cases where imports were tested.

There are vast differences in the pesticide residues that different fresh foods contain. In general, processed foods had lower residues than fresh.

Aldicarb, the most acutely toxic pesticide, is making a comeback in potato production, the study found.

DDT and other pesticides banned for decades, including the carcinogen dieldrin, still show up regularly in residue tests. There is a 77 percent chance that a serving of winter squash delivers too much of a banned pesticide to be safe for a young child, the study found. Dieldrin can't be washed off.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says methyl parathion, the most frequently found pesticide in the Consumer Reports analysis, is commonly used on soybeans and vegetables.

"If you are exposed to methyl parathion or other toxic pesticides, you may have headache, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, chest tightness, blurred vision, and restlessness. Symptoms that might mean an exposed person's condition is getting worse include muscle twitching, weakness, tremor, lack of coordination, excess sweating, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea," the Agency says.

Severe exposure can lead to convulsions, unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, and death. People who are exposed to significant amounts over time may have a persistent lack of appetite, weakness, and malaise. Swallowing, inhaling, and having skin contact with methyl parathion are all ways in which people can be exposed. The Agency says children and the elderly are especially at risk.

Children eat far more produce per pound of body weight than adults and are more sensitive to the effects of pesticides because their nervous systems are changing and developing rapidly. Some pesticides are suspected of causing cancer, and some may interfere with endocrine activity.

In 1993, the National Academy of Sciences issued a major report on pesticides in children's diets, which recommended that U.S. pesticide laws be overhauled to make foods safer for children. That report triggered unanimous passage in 1996 of the Food Quality Protection Act, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency review all pesticides and tighten exposure limits to make them safer for young children.

Parents should not stop serving fruits and vegetables to their children, the Consumers Union recommends. Instead, the organization advises buying organically grown produce. When Consumer Reports tested organic produce in 1998, researchers found little or no toxic pesticide residues.

If organic foods are not available, or are too costly, parents can avoid giving children large amounts of the foods with the highest toxicity scores.

Peel those foods with a high toxicity score, such as apples, peaches, and pears. Washing with a very diluted dishwashing detergent also helps and is also important for green, leafy vegetables, the group advises.

Environment News Service (ENS) 1999. All Rights Reserved.

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