Study finds that European consumers are being increasingly exposed to PFAS pesticides from fruit and vegetables

A recent study by the European Pesticides Action Network (PAN Europe) has uncovered an alarming trend: fruit and vegetables across the EU are increasingly tainted with toxic PFAS, commonly referred to as ‘forever chemicals.’ 

These substances, which the Commission decided not to ban last year, are known for their persistence in the environment and potential harm to human health if not adequately regulated.

The study found a surge in the presence of PFAS pesticide residues on produce over the past decade. According to the findings, the percentage of fruits and vegetables contaminated with these chemicals has nearly tripled since 2011. Specifically, PFAS contamination in fruit has risen by 220%, while vegetables have experienced a staggering 274% increase.

Austria and Greece have witnessed the highest spikes in PFAS contamination within their national production. In 2021, the most commonly detected PFAS in contaminated EU produce included the fungicide fluopyram, the insecticide flonicamid, and the fungicide trifloxystrobin.

On average, vegetables show a slightly lower contamination rate (12%) compared to fruit (20%). Nonetheless, certain vegetables had contamination rates comparable to the most affected fruits. 

Chicory leads the pack with a 42% contamination rate, followed by cucumbers (30%) and peppers (27%). Among fruits, summer varieties such as strawberries (37%), peaches (35%), and apricots (31%) are the most frequently contaminated.

PFAS is used in many industries for its non-stick, heat-resistant, and waterproof properties, including in food packaging and pesticide formulations. This means that residues can infiltrate food products and drinking water. The report highlights that in 2021, 20% of EU-grown fruit contained residues of at least one PFAS pesticide.

In January 2023, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway urged the EU chemicals agency (ECHA) to initiate a new risk assessment on PFAS. 

While the European Commission outlined a “chemicals strategy for sustainability” in 2020, aimed at phasing out non-essential PFAS applications, no concrete proposal has been put forward by the EU executive so far.

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