If you’re like the majority of Americans, you eat an average of 10 pounds of apples each year. And if you are like the majority of Americans, you aren’t seeking out organic versions of this notoriously “dirty” fruit, exposing yourself to a potentially dangerous chemical known as DPA. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), DPA, or diphenylamine, has been banned by European officials, but remains as one of the most prominent toxins on American apples and pears.
DPA is sprayed on apples to prevent something called “storage scald”, or the darkening of the fruit’s skin after months of cold storage. It’s been used since 1962, but was banned in the European Union in 2012 because producers couldn’t answer simple questions about its safety.
“While it is not yet clear that DPA is risky to public health, European Commission officials asked questions that the chemicals’ makers could not answer,” said Sonya Lunder, senior scientist with the EWG. “The EC officials banned outright any further use of DPA on the apples cultivated in the European Union until they are confident it is safe. Europe’s action should cause American policymakers to take a new look at this chemical.”
The European Food Safety Authority asked specifically if DPA could produce carcinogens known as nitrosamines when combined with nitrogen in the atmosphere or elsewhere. The industry responded saying three unknown chemicals were produced on DPA fruit, but that they were unable to determine whether or not they were nitrosamines. As such, the European Commission banned DPA use on apples and pears.
In the U.S., the EPA has not taken action on DPA nor have they responded at all to the concerns expressed by European officials. This, despite DPA being used on 80% of apples and being found in apple sauce, apple juice, pears, and pear baby food. USDA testing finds DPA in higher concentrations than most other pesticides on apples.
“Americans, particularly parents of young children, deserve the same level of concern from our government,” said Lunder. “Apples, apple juice and applesauce are staples in the diets of millions of children, so if there are potential risks to kids from DPA, we need to know now.”
DPA is part of the reason apples have topped the list of the EPA’s “Dirty Dozen” most chemically laden produce for the more than 10 years it’s been around. It’s also the reason apples will remain on the list until efforts are made to ensure Americans are not at risk while eating one of their most popular fruits.