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5 Facts You Should Know About Pesticides on Fruits and Vegetables

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5 Facts You Should Know About Pesticides on Fruits and Vegetables

A healthy diet begins with lots of fruits and vegetables, but some of your family's favorites may contain startling amounts of harmful pesticides.

Non-organic farmers spray synthetic pesticides on crops to kill weeds and insects—and the toxicity doesn't stop there. As they grow, plants absorb pesticides and residues linger on fruit and vegetable skins all the way to your kitchen, even after you wash them.

A healthy diet begins with lots of fruits and vegetables, but some of your family's favorites may contain startling amounts of harmful pesticides.

In the 2016 edition of its Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) breaks down the latest research on pesticide levels on fruits and vegetables and how you can make smart choices for your family.

Here's what you should know:

1. Eating foods with traces of pesticides is bad for your health—especially for kids.

Although the full scope of the threat is not yet known, research confirms that pesticide exposure can harm us in serious ways. Conventional growers use synthetic pesticides that can damage our brain and nervous system, disrupt our hormones and contribute to cancer.

In developing children, pesticide exposure contributes to neurological problems, which impair learning, memory and attention.

Kids eat more food than adults relative to their size and are less capable of processing chemicals that enter their small bodies. Both factors make them especially vulnerable to the hazardous effects of these chemicals.

2. Some fruits and vegetables have a lot of pesticide on them. Others aren't so bad.

And you might be surprised which are which. In the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, EWG names the fresh fruits and veggies that contain the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides when you bring them home from the market.

EWG analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose tests revealed traces of at least one pesticide on nearly 75 percent of fruit and vegetable samples tested in 2014, the most recent year available.

Topping the Dirty Dozen list this year are strawberries, followed by apples, nectarines, peaches, celery and grapes. On the Clean Fifteen list, heart-healthy avocados take the number one spot. (That's especially good news for babies, since avocados make an excellent early solid food).

Click here to view the full lists.

3. There's more than one way to protect your family from pesticide on produce.

The surest way to limit pesticides on your fruits and veggies is to buy USDA-certified organic varieties, but these can be costly and hard to find.

We recommend buying organic whenever you can, but if your options are limited or your budget is tight, consult EWG's list and start prioritizing your purchases.

Strawberries and apples? Organic is best. Avocados and pineapple? Conventional is a good and healthy option.

4. Washing produce is a must—but it doesn't completely remove pesticide residues.

Some people think that thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables will remove all traces of pesticides. Cleaning produce removes dirt, traces of human handling and reduces some pesticides—but not all of them.

USDA tests fruit and vegetables as we typically eat them: washed and, when applicable, peeled (bananas, for example). That means EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists reflect pesticide levels on produce after it's already been washed.

Pesticide levels are even higher when fruits and veggies aren't washed, so rub your produce under running water before eating, even when you buy organic.

5. It's always a good choice to feed your family fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic.

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is one of the healthiest choices we can make, yet far too few people do. Less than a third of adults get the recommended daily amount—at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables—according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rates are even lower for teens.

While it's important to minimize your exposure to pesticides, regularly eating fruits and vegetables is the far bigger win for you and your loved ones.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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