Dirty dozen - Dr. Axe

Environmental Working Group released it’s 2019 Dirty Dozen list and it serves as a solid reminder that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to cleaning up the food system. This year, the report found that almost 70 percent of non-organic samples tested positive for at least one pesticide. (In many cases, the numbers were much higher.) And get this: A single kale sample harbored 18 different pesticide and pesticide breakdown residues.

In fact, EWG found non-organic kale to be the third most contaminated produce item behind strawberries and spinach. Perhaps a surprise, based on its image as a health-conscious produce pick.

“We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal,” says EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin, PhD. “Fruits and vegetables are an important part of everyone’s diet, and when it comes to some conventionally grown produce items, such as kale, choosing organic may be a better option.”

A “Clean 15” list is also included in the report, identifying the non-organic produce least likely to be contaminated with pesticide levels. I advise choosing and growing organic as often as possible, but if you’re on a budget or your selection is limited, these lists help you focus your attention on avoiding the most contaminated fruits and veggies.

Another quick point I’d like to make … many of these results are disturbing and many of these chemicals are banned for use on food in other countries. Still, they don’t violate U.S. laws because our regulations for pesticides in food are outdated and aren’t keeping us safe.

Key Findings of the 2019 Dirty Dozen Report

  • The United States Department of Agriculture tests found 225 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on thousands of produce samples analyzed.
  • Environmental Working group analyzed USDA pesticide residue data and found that almost 70 percent of non-organic produce sampled tested positive for pesticide contamination.
  • More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.

The 2019 Dirty Dozen List & Clean 15 List

EWG’s Dirty Dozen (2)

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

EWG’s Clean 15 

The Clean 15 list includes produce that is least likely to be contaminated by pesticides. Here are some highlights from the Clean 15 list:

  • Less than 1 percent of avocado and sweet corn samples tested positive for any detectable pesticides; they scored the cleanest of all produce tested.
  • More than 70 percent of fruit and vegetable samples on the Clean Fifteen list had no pesticide residues.
  • EWG says multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables.
  • Only six percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples harbored two or more pesticides.
  • Important: Some papayas and sweet corn in the United State is GMO, so in my opinion, it’s best to always choose organic for those.

Here’s the 2019 Clean 15 List: (3)

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn*
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen Sweet Peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas*
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwi
  10. Cabbage
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew Melon

Some sweet corn and papayas sold in the United States are GMOs, so choose organic to avoid GMO versions of these crops.

Dirty dozen - Dr. Axe


Dirty Dozen: The Fertility Factor

Previously, the 2018 Dirty Dozen report also focuses on high pesticide residues and a link to infertility. Environmental Working Group flagged a pair of Harvard studies that found: (4)

  • Women who ate produce with high pesticide residue levels (2 or more a day) had a 26 percent lower risk of having a successful pregnancy when compared to women who ate cleaner produce.
  • Eating more pesticide-laced produce also impacted male infertility markers, too. Men who ingested more pesticides on fruits and veggies suffered from poorer sperm quality.

Why is this important? Sperm counts of men living in North America, Australia, Europe and New Zealand have dropped 50 percent in less than 40 years. (5, 6)

Digging Deeper into the Dirty Dozen Report

The Dirty Dozen: Kale

  • The majority (60 percent) of non-organic kale samples tested positive for Dacthal, also known as DCPA.
  • DCPA is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA.
  • The European Union has banned DCPA use on food crops since 2009.

The Dirty Dozen: Strawberries

  • A single sample of strawberries showed 23 different pesticides/pesticide breakdown products.
  • About 30 percent of strawberries tested positive for residues of 10 or more pesticides
  • Sixteen percent of strawberries contained carbendazim, an endocrine disruptor that harms the male reproductive system.
  • Bifenthrin, a pyrethroid insecticide, was detected on nearly 30 percent of samples; The EPA classifies it as a possible human carcinogen.
  • Most strawberries are grown in California, where about 300 pounds of pesticides are used on each acre of strawberry fields. (For comparison, corn uses about 5 pounds of pesticides per acre.)
  • About 9 million pounds of poisonous fumigation gases are injected into strawberry fields before planting; this not only kills pests but the beneficial microbes in the soil. It’s a sterilization process.
  • Some of these gases were originally created as chemical warfare agents. (7)

The Dirty Dozen: Spinach

  • While spinach nutrition is loaded with calcium and vitamins, there’s one reason to always try to choose organic. Researchers found DDT, a neurotoxic insecticide banned in the U.S., in an alarming number of samples. (A whopping 40 percent of nonorganic spinach samples, to be exact.)
  • Spinach samples had, on average, 1.8 as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.
  • The average level of pesticides on nonorganic spinach equaled 7.1 different chemicals.
  • The worst sample contained 18 different pesticides or pesticide breakdown products.
  • EWG notes that higher levels of permethrin, a lice-killing chemical, routinely crops up in spinach (76 percent of samples). The neurotoxic insecticide chemical can trigger tremors and seizures at higher levels.
  • Lower levels of permethrin are linked to symptoms of ADHD in kids. In fact, when permethrin levels were detected in kids’ urine, they were two times more likely to have an ADHD symptoms diagnosis. (8)

Dirty Dozen: The Brain Damage Factor

Recent Dirty Dozen reports also focused on chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic insecticide commonly found on:

  • Apples
  • Bell peppers
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines

Despite the fact that scientists within the administration reviewed the evidence and found chlorpyrifos to negatively impact a child’s brain and behavior, Pruitt reversed the ban and is allowing its use until at least 2022 when it’ll need another safety assessment. (9)

Final Thoughts on EWG’s 2019 Dirty Dozen List

  • EWG released its annual Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists, highlighting the fruits and vegetables most and least likely to harbor pesticide residues.
  • Strawberries are high on the contamination list again this year, but kale was also highlighted for extreme pesticide residues.
  • This list should in no way deter you from eating fruits and vegetables, but it should make you wary of modern chemical farming. Using chemicals to fumigate the soil and kill weeds, microbes and bugs has some unwanted side effects, including killing soil health and beneficial microbes.
  • Pesticides are linked to dozens of health problems, including certain cancers, symptoms of ADHD, autism, Parkinson’s and a whole host of other issues.

Read Next: 17 Fish You Should Never Eat

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