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Strawberries, Spinach Top 'Dirty Dozen' List of Pesticide-Contaminated Produce

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Strawberries top the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list of U.S. produce most contaminated with pesticides. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP / Getty Images

Which conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables in the U.S. are most contaminated with pesticides? That's the question that the Environmental Working Group answers every year with its "Dirty Dozen" list of produce with the highest concentration of pesticides after being washed or peeled.


This year's surprise? Kale ranked number three, behind strawberries and spinach. More than 92 percent of conventionally kale samples had residue from two or more pesticides, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests. The last year that the USDA tested kale was in 2009, when it ranked eighth.

"We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal," EWG toxicologist Alexis Temkin, Ph.D. said in a statement announcing the new list Wednesday. "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."

The other items on the list were:

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

The "Dirty Dozen" is part of the EWG's annual "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce," which also includes a "Clean Fifteen" list of the produce with the least amount of pesticide residue. Topping that list were avocados, sweet corn and pineapples.

The lists are based on more than 40,900 fruit and vegetable samples tested by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Overall, pesticides were found on nearly 70 percent of non-organic produce sold in the U.S., according to EWG. One of the pesticides found was Dacthal, which was found on nearly 60 percent of kale samples. It has been found by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to possibly cause cancer in humans and has been banned from being used on crops in the EU since 2009. Another chemical found on apples, diphenylamine, has also been banned in the EU over cancer concerns.

Exposure to pesticides is especially dangerous for young children, EWG noted, since they are still developing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted there are reasons to be worried about pesticide exposure in young children, especially before birth, since exposure may lead to developmental and behavioral issues, CNN reported.

"Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to children," pediatrician Dr. Philip Landrigan said in the EWG statement. "When possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children's exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables."

However, Alliance for Food and Farming Executive Director Teresa Thorne told CNN that consumers shouldn't be afraid to buy food on the list, pointing to one study that criticized EWG's list and had found that eating organic did not reduce risk.

"That's largely because residues are so low, if present at all," she said.

However, New York University Medical School environmental medicine specialist Leonardo Trasande told The Guardian that the list was "widely respected' and was a useful guide for those wanting to know which fruits and vegetables to buy organic.

If buying organic is not affordable or possible, though, EWG still advises consumers to eat their veggies.

"The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure," EWG research analyst Carla Burns said.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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