Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a report on the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables and fruits on the market. The list is called The Dirty Dozen, and consists of produce that is important to buy organic, or use a special wash to remove the pesticides.
The list changes slightly every year, and in 2020, there is bad news for kale lovers. As healthy as kale usually is, non-organic kale became number 3 on the Dirty Dozen list (the second vegetable after spinach), because over 50 percent of it tested positive for cancer-causing pesticides.
The Problem With Kale
The EWG’s analysis found residues of DCPA or Dacthal on kale, which the EPA labeled as a possible carcinogen back in 1995. In 2005, many manufacturers stopped using it on crops of artichokes, beans, and cucumbers, due to worries of drinking water contamination.
The European Union banned using Dacthal on all crops in 2009.
However, in the U.S., this cancer-causing pesticide is still used on not only kale, but also broccoli, sweet potatoes, eggplant, and turnips, according to the EGW kale report.
In 2016, roughly 500,000 pounds of Dacthal was used on crops mainly in California and Washington state. However, only in California does all pesticide use have to be reported, so the number is likely much higher.
This pesticide is concerning not only because of its residues on kale and other produce, but it can contaminate drinking water, and travel through air to communities near the farms.
Besides it being a possible carcinogen, it is a suspected endocrine disruptor, as well as harmful for thyroid function.
Additionally, Dacthal tested positive for contamination of two other cancer-causing chemicals: TCDD and hexachlorobenzene.
USDA data from 2017 showed that over 90 percent of kale is contaminated with at least two pesticide residues.
These include insecticides bifenthrin and cypermethrin, and pesticide permethrin. The last one can be detected in human urine, and is linked to adverse neurological events and ADHD in children.
While kale remains a health food, it is necessary to buy it from organic sources. The rest of the produce from the Dirty Dozen should be bought organically as well.
The Dirty Dozen 2020
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Hot peppers
- Green beans
- Snap peas
- Winter squashes
- Summer squashes
- Sweet potatoes
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Sweet corn
Washing The Produce To Remove Pesticides
If you cannot find these organically but choose to use them, do use a produce wash that will remove some pesticide residues from your fruits and vegetables.
Certified Organic Veggie Wash, for example, is manufactured from sunflower oil, apple cider vinegar, orange and lemon oils, and coconut oil (plus potassium hydroxide used to turn oil into soap, and citric acid) to cut through the wax and remove chemicals from pesticides.
To use it on firm produces like potatoes and apples, all you have to do is spray the veggie wash. To wash soft produce and leafy greens, you mix 2 oz. of the veggie wash with a large bowl of water and soak the produce for 30 seconds. Rinse everything after using the veggies wash for all produce.
This article was first published in 2019 and updated for 2020. If you’d like to learn how to grow your own food as part of The School of Permaculture’s 2020 online school, click here.