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USDA's Annual Summary of Pesticides in Food and Water

by aseligmann — last modified Jul 17, 2010 12:00 AM

The food we eat and the water we drink is often contaminated with pesticides. With a system of agriculture that relies heavily on the use of pesticides – herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides – it's not surprising that residues of these chemicals turn up in our food and water.

The food we eat and the water we drink is often contaminated with pesticides. With a system of agriculture that relies heavily on the use of pesticides – herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides – it's not surprising that residues of these chemicals turn up in our food and water.

The most recent data released by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) provides a picture of the extent of pesticide contamination. The 2005 Annual Summary of the Pesticide Data Program covers a variety of food, plus drinking water and, for the first time, bottled water.

Fresh Fruits & Vegetables

Insecticides, followed by fungicides, are the most common contaminants on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Apples had the highest rate of contamination with pesticides (or their breakdown products) detected in 98% of the samples. Thirty-six different pesticides were detected on apples.

Lettuce came in second with a 94% contamination rate. Tests found 43 different pesticides on lettuce with up to 9 different pesticides being found on a single sample.

Among the other fruits and vegetables tested, it was common to find samples that contained three different pesticides: 11% of grapes, 24% of green beans, 14% of oranges, 13% of pears, and 22% of strawberries.

Although the insecticide DDT was banned in 1972, 1.2% of the total fruit and vegetable samples tested contained DDE, a DDT metabolite. In fact, this residue of DDT was found in 14.7% of lettuces samples. Similarly, dieldrin – cancelled in 1974 – was found in 6.6% of winter squash samples and 1.3% of cantaloupe samples. DDT and related insecticides persist a long time in the environment and there is no way to control their presence in the soil. This USDA report accurately characterized these long-lasting chemicals as "environmental contaminants."

Wheat & Soybeans

The annual report also looked at wheat and soybeans. Pesticides were detected in 22% of soybeans. The major contaminant was the insecticide chlorpyrifos, found on 15% of the samples. For wheat samples, 75% were contaminated. The standouts for wheat were the insecticides malathion found in 70% of the samples, and chlorpyrifos found in 23% of the samples.

Drinking Water

The USDA tested drinking water from community water systems in 10 states. All of these systems relied on surface water such as rivers and lakes.

Almost all of the detected chemicals were herbicides. The top two herbicides were atrazine and 2,4-D with atrazine found in 74% of drinking water samples and 2,4-D in 58% of the samples.

Unlike food, where pesticides are deliberately applied, water is contaminated indirectly from pesticide residues found in runoff, rain, and even air. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the herbicide atrazine is the most frequently detected contaminant in both urban and agricultural streams across America, even though it is primarily used in agriculture. Additionally, 2,4-D is widely used on both farms and lawns, and it is frequently detected in both agricultural and urban waterways.

Bottled Water

For the first time, the USDA sampled bottled water, an increasingly popular beverage. Pesticides were found in 16% percent of the samples. Six different herbicides made up the bulk of those detections, with a single sample showing a fungicide.

Ninety different brands of bottled water were tested. The bottled water samples represented various sources of water: artesian, glacier, groundwater (wells), purified drinking water, and spring water. At least one sample from each of these categories had a pesticide detection.

Milk & Cream

Testing showed that 99% of both milk and heavy cream samples contained pesticide residues. These dairy residues were all insecticides except for one fungicide. Of current-use pesticides, the most frequently detected were the fungicide diphenylamine (92% milk/83% cream) and the insecticide cyhalothrin (21% milk/23% cream). Milk and cream were also contaminated with the long-banned insecticides DDT [DDE] (85% milk/87% cream) and dieldrin (23% milk/33% cream).

Cleaner Food And Water

Reliance on pesticides to grow crops directly results in pesticide contamination on our food. Pesticide use in both urban and agricultural areas results in pesticide contamination of drinking water sources.

Instead we should promote and support organic farming by pushing for funding to go towards research on organic methods and by buying organic food when we can. In our own homes and communities, we should work to reduce our reliance on pesticides. Fewer chemicals will mean less-contaminated food and cleaner water for all of us.

 


REFERENCES

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Marketing Service. 2006.
Pesticide Data Program. Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2005. [174 pages]
http://www.ams.usda.gov/science/pdp/Summary2005.pdf

Gilliom, RJ et al. 2006.
The Quality of Our Nation's Waters – Pesticides in the Nation's Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001.
U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1291. [172 pages]
http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/2005/1291/pdf/circ1291.pdf

 

RELATED RESOURCE:

Environmental Working Group. 2006.
Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
http://www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php