Pesticides and the “Dirty Dozen”

Every year The U.S. Department of Agriculture samples produce for pesticide residues. Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes its list referred to as the “Dirty Dozen”. The last available data showed that there were over 146 different pesticides residues on fruits and vegetables even though they had been washed and in some cases peeled. This year the EWG dirty dozen list includes strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, salary, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers.

  • Most notably, 98% of samples of strawberry, peaches, nectarines, and apples were positive for at least one pesticide residue. Potatoes unfortunately, had more pesticides per weight than any other produce.
  • Kale, Collard greens and hot peppers were contaminated with toxic insecticides.

Are these chemicals toxic to humans?

There are studies dating back to 1990’s that suggest exposure to certain insecticides can cause neurological problems in children.

“Several long-term studies of American children initiated in the 1990s found that children’s exposures to toxic organophosphate insecticides in not only agricultural communities but also cities were high enough to cause subtle but lasting damages to their brains and nervous systems (Bouchard 2011, Rauh 2011, Engel 2011).” – EWG

The counterpoint to the dirty dozen list is espoused on another website.

  • Some pesticides are drastically more toxic than others, but the EWG’s scoring system considers all pesticides to be equal.
  • Three quarters of the pesticide/commodity combinations demonstrated exposure estimates below 0.01% of the RfD (corresponding to exposures one million times below chronic No Observable Adverse Effect Levels from animal toxicology studies), and 40.8% had exposure estimates below 0.001% of the RfD.What are some reasonable conclusions?
    Any pesticide or insecticide in our food MAY carry a health risk short or long term.
    Substantial scientific evidence of those risks MAY take years to become clear.
    If you want to reduce your risks of exposure to these chemicals consider organically grown produce.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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