Hormone-Disrupting Fungicides on Citrus

citrus fruits


The two hormone-disrupting fungicides imazalil and thiabendazole, one of which is also a likely carcinogen, were detected on nearly 90 percent of non-organic citrus fruit samples in tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

More than half of the samples contained both fungicides. Both chemicals disrupt the body’s hormones, or endocrine system, which regulates metabolism, growth and development, and other important functions. They can also harm the reproductive system, and California scientists classify one of them as a chemical known to cause cancer.

In January and July 2020, EWG scientists purchased and peeled 25 samples of conventionally grown grapefruit, lemons, mandarins and oranges. The edible portion of the fruit was tested for pesticide residues by an independent laboratory accredited by the state of California.

The highest levels of imazalil and thiabendazole were found on mandarins, including clementines, followed by oranges and then grapefruit. Organic samples, two oranges and one grapefruit, did not have detectable levels of fungicides. The fungicides detected on citrus are typically applied after harvesting to prolong shelf life and prevent rotting.

The average concentration of imazalil detected in all fruits tested was about 20 times the amount that EWG scientists recommend as a limit to protect children against increased risk of cancer. For thiabendazole, more research is needed to determine a safe limit for children’s health.

EWG believes pesticides linked to cancer and hormone disruption should not be found on popular fruits that children eat. In 2019, EWG submitted official comments urging the EPA to reevaluate the use of these fungicides for post-harvest application on citrus, in light of potential harm to children’s health. More recently, EWG called on President Joe Biden to ban or restrict a number of harmful pesticides, including imazalil.

Until safe and effective anti-fungal technologies are developed, children’s health should not be compromised by fungicide use on citrus, a source of Vitamin C and other nutrients important for good health. Organic citrus fruits and fruit juices are the best choice for families looking to avoid synthetic fungicides. Choosing domestic or locally sourced citrus, and choosing grapefruit over sweeter citrus varieties, may reduce exposure to post-harvest fungicides.

Article adapted from

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