Image: Consumer Reports analysis finds 450 pesticides on popular produce

A study in the United States detected traces of more than 450 pesticides in popular fruits and vegetables. 

Just recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved aerial spraying of a toxic herbicide sold under the brand name Paraquat. 

Studies have linked Paraquat to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. In fact, several individuals have already filed a Paraquat lawsuit after they have developed Parkinson’s following long-term exposure to the pesticide. 

Consumer Reports Analysis

Consumer Reports analyzed five years worth of data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The analysis found residues of 450 different pesticides in widely consumed fruits and vegetables. It also revealed that pesticide levels in some vegetables and fruits were above the CR’s potentially dangerous threshold. 

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a “dirty dozen” list that names the produce with the highest pesticide levels. This year, the EWG “dirty dozen” list include:

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

Analysis conducted by Consumer Reports found that around 20 percent of the produce got “poor” scores, including:

  • Fresh green beans
  • Potatoes
  • Peaches

Why are pesticides dangerous?

According to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), pesticide exposure can cause a plethora of health problems, including: 

  • Reproductive problems 
  • Hormonal issues 
  • Diabetes 
  • Degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and ADHD
  • Various types of cancer

The group added that pesticides also negatively affect ecosystems by killing off pollinators and other useful insects.

“CR recommends buying organic when possible, to reduce your pesticide exposure and protect the environment and farm workers,” Senior Policy Analyst at CR Charlotte Vallaeys stated in the report. “Still, we realize organic can cost more, and that means it isn’t always an option.”

An alternative option is to avoid imported foods because they may contain residues of pesticides that are banned in the U.S. Another potential solution is for consumers to replace low-scoring produce with higher-scoring produce. For instance, people can try replacing green beans with broccoli.

In a span of five years, CR evaluated over 24,000 samples and computed the rating based on pesticide levels that would be harmful to a 35-pound child.

“An object with a poor rating is more dangerous than one with a fair or better rating. Chronic exposure poses a concern, according to the analysis. “Most of the time, choosing produce with the highest ratings can lower the risk of future harm.”

According to Consumer Reports, people should opt for organic whenever possible. Still, the CR study indicated that replacing a produce with an organic fruit didn’t reduce the risk of pesticide exposure. 

Should you go organic?

The widespread use of pesticides might make it impossible for you to completely avoid traces of the chemicals in your food. Organic produce is a popular alternative for some people. After all, farmers that grow organic products observe government guidelines.

However, the debate on whether going organic really equates to being safer is still ongoing to this day. Various researches also have conflicting findings.

For instance, a study that observed 4,400 adults found that even those individuals who only consume organic foods moderately had lower levels of synthetic pesticides in their urine.

However, several experts argue that going organic doesn’t really mean safer and better, as organic pesticides can also have adverse effects on the environment. Some organic pesticides are also not tested for their toxicity, as the EPA only applies the Reduced Risk Program to synthetic pesticides.

In fact:

In some cases, they may even be worse than their synthetic counterparts. According to a 2017 comprehensive review, there is not much difference between the nutrient content of organic and inorganic produce. Another downside is that organic foods tend to be on the expensive side. 

Other Diseases Caused by Pesticides

Pesticide exposure can occur in different ways. Chemicals from pesticides can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or ingested. Farmers and agricultural workers who apply, load, and mix pesticides in their workplace are the ones most at risk of pesticide exposure. 

But the dangers of pesticides do not only stop with them. In fact, studies found that even individuals who live near a farm or agricultural setting where pesticides are being used can be exposed to the chemicals through pesticide drift

Exposure to pesticides can cause a plethora of health problems, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Asthma
  • Birth defects
  • Cancer
  • Developmental disorders
  • Learning disabilities
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Reproductive health effects

Some pesticides are also known for their high levels of toxicity. As such, another risk that comes with chemical exposure is pesticide poisoning. 

Symptoms of pesticide poisoning may occur in patients who had a single episode of exposure or those who have been exposed to unsafe amounts of toxic chemicals. Poisoning can also occur in patients who have been repeatedly exposed to smaller amounts of toxic substances over time.

Symptoms of poisoning may mimic the signs and symptoms of other diseases. This is why cases of pesticide poisoning often go underreported. Few medical professionals are also trained to handle cases of poisoning involving pesticides. 

Signs of poisoning can range from mild skin, eye, and nose, irritations to weakness, coma, and even death.

Minimizing Pesticide Exposure

While going organic may not be an option for everyone, there are still other ways you can safeguard yourself and your family from being exposed to harmful chemicals like pesticides. 

Luckily, the first step can be as easy as reading the pesticide label and following instructions that are indicated if you’re going to apply or mix these chemicals. It’s also important to keep a pesticide in its original bottle with its original label. 

Transferring it to another bottle may endanger a family member, especially children, if they think of it as a beverage. When coming in contact with pesticides, you should also observe safety by wearing protective clothing.

Lastly, whenever possible, it’s still best to resort to non-chemical management methods on controlling pests, especially on your lawn or garden. Studies found that pesticide use outdoors may raise indoor pesticide levels that may be unsafe for individuals living inside the house. 

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