The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual list called the “Dirty Dozen,” every year that identifies twelve fruits and vegetables that are most contaminated with pesticides. The list is based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture  (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Here are the biggest reasons these fruits and vegetables are so dangerous to our health:

  1. High Levels of Pesticides:  Pesticides are chemicals that are used to kill pests and save the produce from being destroyed. However, high levels of these chemicals are harmful to human health.
  2. Chronic Health Risks: Long-term exposure to pesticides is linked to many health problems like cancer, hormone disruption, and neurological issues. They also affect the reproductive system and may lead to developmental problems in children.
  3. Acute Health Effects: Short-term exposure to high levels of pesticides can cause  nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, and skin and eye irritation.
  4. Vulnerable Populations: Some people are more vulnerable like children, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems.
  5. Environmental Impact: The use of pesticides also has a broader environmental impact like contamination of soil and water, poisoning wildlife, your pets and more. This can indirectly  disrupting ecosystems that support food production and harm humans
  6. Bioaccumulation: Pesticides  accumulate in your body over time. This repeated exposure multiplies the poisonous effects as they accumulate in body tissues.

The “Dirty Dozen” for 2024 according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Grapes
  5. Peaches
  6. Pears
  7. Nectarines
  8. Apples
  9. Bell and hot peppers
  10. Cherries
  11. Blueberries
  12. Green beans

So why are Pesticides allowed to be sprayed on fruits and vegetables (4,5) ?

  1. Pest Control: Pesticides are used to control  pests like insects, weeds, fungi, and rodents. because they can cause significant damage to yilds and quality of crops.
  2. Increased Crop Yields: It is all about the money! Pesticides  increase crop yields by minimizing the damage caused by pests. That means more food can be produced on the same amount of land… essential for feeding an ever growing global population.
  3. Economic Viability: Pesticides prevent crop losses and allow  farmers to maintain  the financial stability of their operations.
  4. Consumer Demand: Consumers demand  fresh fruits and vegetables year-round. As a result, Pesticides help ensure sufficient quantities
  5. Regulation and Safety: Although regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States set limits on the amount and types of pesticides …. these agencies are heavily lobbied by big business who want to maintain their profits. It should be noted that Pesticides are  periodically reviewed and updated to reflect new scientific knowledge. That being said, many of the pesticides used in the USA are banned in other countries
  6. Global Food Security: Pesticides play a role in global food security by helping to protect crops from pests and diseases. In regions where food scarcity is a concern, the use of pesticides can help ensure a stable food supply
Pesticides used in the USA that are banned in other countries due to concerns
about health and environmental impacts.:
  1. Atrazine:
    • Use in the USA: Atrazine is widely used herbicides in the U.S.A. for controlling weeds in corn and sugarcane.
    • Banned In: The European Union banned Atrazine in 2004 due to concerns about the contamination of groundwater and associated health risks, including but not limited to endocrine disruption. (1,2,3)
  2. Chlorpyrifos:
    • Use in the USA: Chlorpyrifos is primarily used on  fruit, vegetables, and nuts.
    • Banned In: The European Union banned Chlorpyrifos in 2020 because of  evidence linking it to neurodevelopmental issues in children. It is also banned Canada and India. (2)
  3. Paraquat:
    • Use in the USA: Paraquat is a highly toxic herbicide and subject to many lawsuits in the USA. it is widely used for weed and grass control.
    • Banned In: The European Union banned Paraquat in 2007 because of worries about  acute toxicity and potential health risks…especially Parkinson’s disease. It is also banned in many other countries like Brazil and China. (3)
  4. Neonicotinoids (e.g., Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam):
    • Use in the USA: Neonicotinoids are widely used as insecticides in agriculture,  for treating seeds and reducing pests
    • Banned In: Several neonicotinoids are banned or restricted in the European Union due to their devastating effects on  bees. (3)For example:
      • Imidacloprid: Banned for outdoor use in the EU.
      • Clothianidin: Banned for outdoor use in the EU.
      • Thiamethoxam: Banned for outdoor use in the EU.
  5. Dicofol:
    • Use in the USA: Dicofol is an acaricide used to control mites on  cotton, apples, and citrus.
    • Banned In: The European Union banned Dicofol in 2009 due to its consistent accumulation in the environment (3)
  6. Endosulfan:
    • Use in the USA: Endosulfan was used on vegetables, fruits, and cotton, even though its use has been phased out in the U.S. since 2010.
    • Banned In: Endosulfan is banned in many countries, including the European Union, Brazil, and India, because of  acute toxicity and its potential  to disrupt your endocrine system. (3)

Insidershealth Tip:5 ways you can reduce your exposure to pesticides in fruits and vegetable:

  1. Buy Organic: Organic foods are grown without synthetic pesticides and may have lower pesticide residues.
  2. Wash Your Produce:  Scrub your produce with a brush and using a mild soap or baking soda to remove chemicals on the surface of produce and rinse under warm water
  3. Peel Fruits and Vegetables: Peeling reduces pesticides…yet also removes some of the best nutrients that are pfresent in the skins
  4. Diversify Your Diet: Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to minimize your risk of exposure but still wash them carefully
  5. Grow Your Own Produce: Grow your own fruits and vegetables so you have complete control over the use of chemicals in your garden.

References:

(1)https://usrtk.org/pesticides/atrazine/

(2)https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/syngenta-harassed-scientist-who-exposed-risks-its-herbicide-atrazine

(3)https://regenerationinternational.org/2023/09/15/atrazine-an-endocrine-disrupting-herbicide-banned-in-europe-is-widely-used-in-the-u-s/

(4)https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides

(5)https://www.fda.gov/food/chemical-contaminants-pesticides/pesticides

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