The 2017 Dirty Dozen List – Eat Organic

The Environmental Working Group recently released their Dirty Dozen 2017 list…produce with the most pesticide residue or the most harmful.  There are several changes:  Spinach shot up to number 2, Pears moved and strawberries continue to be number one due to the sheer number of chemicals , the serious harm they can cause and the fact that we are eating significantly more strawberries thus increasing the harmful effects.  Below, I’ve taken excerpts from the EWG website to highlight some of the issues.  Eat organic for anything on the dirty dozen list or grown your own.


“New federal data shows that conventionally grown spinach has more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested, with three-fourths of samples tested contaminated with a neurotoxic bug killer that is banned from use on food crops in Europe. “  A sharp increase in pesticide residues on non-organic spinach has been detected compared to tests performed eight years ago. Spinach jumped from 8 to #2, a significant move.

“The USDA recently published results of a pesticide analysis for 683 conventionally grown spinach samples… they contained far more pesticides by weight than all other crops tested, more than double the amount found on all other Dirty Dozen crops. Seventy-five percent of the samples contained residues of permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide. At high doses, permethrin overwhelms the nervous system and causes tremors and seizures.”

“Since 2000, Europe has not permitted any permethrin to be used on food crops.Three other previously undetected fungicides – mandipropam, fluopicolide and ametoctradin, which are used to kill mold and mildew – were found at relatively high concentrations on spinach samples.  Residues of DDT and its breakdown products were found on half of spinach samples.”  DDT is toxic to people. Although banned in the 1970s, residues remain in the soil and are picked up by spinach grown today.


“Pesticides on conventionally grown pears have increased dramatically in recent years, according to the latest tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The sharp rise has vaulted the fruit back on EWG’s Dirty Dozen™ list of fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticide residues. Pears now rank sixth on the list, up from 22nd previously.”

In 2015, USDA’s tests of 668 samples of non-organic pears found:

  • The amount of pesticide residues on pears more than doubled since 2010
  • Overall, more than 20 pesticides were found on pear samples,
  • The four pesticides detected in the highest concentrations were all fungicides, which can be applied late in the growing season or even after pears are harvested to keep them from spoiling during storage. The average amount of pesticides found on pears was greater than that on other tree fruit crops, including peaches, nectarines, apples and cherries, which are all on the Dirty Dozen list.

Among the pesticides detected:

  • Carbendazim, found on more than one-fourth of samples, a chemical that is toxic to the male reproductive system and a suspected hormone disruptor.
  • Diphenylamine, found on about one in eight samples. This chemical is banned in Europe because of concerns that it could form cancer-causing nitrosamines during storage or when pears are cooked.
  • The bee-killing insecticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid, found on about one in seven and one in 12 samples, respectively.



“Americans eat nearly eight pounds of fresh strawberries a year – and with them, dozens of pesticides, including chemicals that have been linked to cancer and reproductive damage, or that are banned in Europe. Strawberries contained an average of 7.7 different pesticides per sample, compared to 2.3 pesticides per sample for all other produce, according to a new EWG analysis.

What’s worse, strawberry growers use jaw-dropping volumes of poisonous gases – some developed for chemical warfare but now banned by the Geneva Conventions – to sterilize their fields before planting, killing every pest, weed and other living thing in the soil.  Of the 841 batches of strawberries tested – about 88 percent of which were grown in the U.S., with the rest coming from Mexico.

The USDA’s strawberry tests found that:

  • Almost all samples – 99 percent – had detectable residues of at least one pesticide.
  • Some 29 percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides.
  • The dirtiest strawberry sample had residues of 21 different pesticides and breakdown products.
  • Strawberry growers used 74 different pesticides in various combinations.


How hazardous are the chemicals used on strawberries?  Some are fairly benign. But some are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems. Among the worst:

  • Carbendazim, a hormone-disrupting fungicide that damages the male reproductive system, was detected on 20 percent of samples. The European Union has banned it because of its intense toxicity.
  • Bifenthrin, found on more than 33 percent of samples, is an insecticide that California regulators have designated a possible human carcinogen.
  • Malathion, found on 11 percent of recent samples, is toxic to the nervous system and, according to the International Agency for Cancer Research, is a probable human carcinogen. It is often sprayed to eradicate mosquitos and other insects.

In recent decades, the increased use of pesticides and other chemically aided growing methods have made cheap strawberries available all year, and aggressive marketing campaigns have spurred consumption. Today the average American eats nearly four times as many fresh strawberries per year as in 1980.

California data show that in 2014, nearly 300 pounds of pesticides were applied to each acre of strawberries – an astonishing amount, compared to about five pounds of pesticides per acre of corn, which is considered a pesticide-intensive crop.  Of the 300lbs, 80 percent  were fumigants, which are poisonous gases injected directly into the ground to sterilize the soil before planting.

Fumigants are acutely toxic gases that kill every living thing in the soil. The most notorious strawberry fumigant is methyl bromide. An international treaty banned it in 1987 because it destroys the earth’s protective ozone layer, but for almost 40 years U.S. strawberry growers have fought for so-called “critical use exemptions” from the EPA, and were granted access to decreasing amounts of the chemical over the past several decades. This is the first year that the EPA will not permit any methyl bromide use for strawberries.  Newer soil fumigants are also hazardous. These include chloropicrin, the active ingredient in tear gas, and 1,3-dichloropropene, a carcinogen sold by Dow Chemical Company as Telone. Both are banned in the European Union.”2017EWG_PesticidesInProduceGuide_Print_C01