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Conventional strawberries top the Dirty Dozen list of Environmental Working Groups’s (EWG) 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, displacing apples, which headed the list the last five years running.
Nearly all strawberry samples—98 percent—tested by federal officials had detectable pesticide residues. Forty percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides and some had residues of 17 different pesticides. Some of the chemicals detected on strawberries are relatively benign, but others are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.
Strawberries were once a seasonal, limited crop, but heavy use of pesticides has increased yield and stretched the growing season. In California, where most U.S. strawberries are grown, each acre is treated with an astonishing 300 pounds of pesticides. More than 60 pounds are conventional chemicals that may leave post-harvest residues but most are fumigants—volatile poison gases that can drift into nearby schools and neighborhoods.
“It is startling to see how heavily strawberries are contaminated with residues of hazardous pesticides, but even more shocking is that these residues don’t violate the weak U.S. laws and regulations on pesticides in food,” Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst, said. “The EPA’s [Environmental Protection Agency] levels of residues allowed on produce are too lax to protect Americans’ health. They should be updated to reflect new research that shows even very small doses of toxic chemicals can be harmful, particularly for young children.”
“Parents looking for help in lowering their children’s exposure to pesticides while still eating plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables can turn to the Environmental Working Group’s guide as an easy-to-use resource when shopping at the store,” Dr. Philip Landrigan said.
Dr. Landrigan is the dean of Global Health and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and was the principal author of the pivotal 1993 National Academy of Sciences study, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, that led Congress to pass the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act that set safety standards for pesticides on foods.
Recent studies of insecticides used on some fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, found that children exposed to high levels were at greater risk of impaired intelligence and ADHD. Research also indicates that the levels of pesticides in the bodies of elementary school children peaked during the summer, when they ate the most fresh produce. But after just five days on an organic diet, they were essentially pesticide-free.
The Dirty Dozen lists the fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated by multiple pesticides and which have higher concentrations of pesticides. More than 98 percent of strawberries, peaches, nectarines and apples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
Avocados, on the other hand, remained atop EWG’s Clean Fifteen list with less than one percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen tested positive for more than four types of pesticides and very few for more than one.
“Fruits and vegetables are important for your health,” Lunder said. “But for those on the Dirty Dozen, we recommend buying the organic versions if you want to avoid pesticides on your food. You can feel confident that conventionally grown fruits and veggies on the Clean Fifteen list have very little pesticide contamination.”
The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated every year since 2004, ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables. EWG’s analysis is based on results of more than 35,200 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. This year’s update found a total of 146 different pesticides on fruit and vegetable samples tested in 2014—residues that remain on produce even after items are washed and in some cases peeled.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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