An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away… or Does it?

Pesticides and Your Local Environment

Rachel Piazza, Writer

An apple a day keeps the doctor away… or does it?

Eating produce may be exposing us to harmful pesticides, substances used to repel pests from crops. According to the Pesticide National Network, “pesticides are known or probable carcinogens.”

Specifically, 70 pesticides are classified as known or probable carcinogens, notes Ty Bollinger, a contributor to the website “The Truth About Cancer.” Carcinogens are cancer-causing substances. Incidentally, cancer rates are rising. So is eating produce that’s been sprayed with pesticides giving us cancer?

There are natural pesticides created by plants for pest prevention. However, there are also synthetic pesticides, which are unnatural and presumed to be harmful. Bollinger states that “the wide-ranging variety of synthetic and naturally occurring chemical pesticides makes it difficult to accurately assess their potential to cause cancer in humans.” There is no answer set in stone, but studies have shown that exposure to pesticides has destructive effects.

How can you become exposed to pesticides?

Most people may assume that only farmers have to be concerned about pesticide exposure, due to their job being dependent on maintaining crops. However, household use of pesticides has been proven to cause negative effects, especially in children. Bolliger notes “…researchers suspect that exposure to high levels of pesticides in the home is a potential initiator of cancer in young children not only from early childhood exposure but also during the preconception (via sperm) and in utero stages as well.” Some household pesticides can include bleach, insect killers, weed killers, etc.

Pesticides can be detected on produce as well. Organophosphates are the most common pesticides used on fruits and vegetables.

Pesticides can be found in unexpected places, such as schools and your backyard. According to PAN’s (Pesticide Action Network)  article Schools and Playgrounds, “19 of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides and 28 of 40 commonly used school pesticides are linked to cancer.” This is another area for children to become exposed to pesticides. Since they are small and developing, children are susceptible to disease that could result from pesticide exposure. Going to school, playing in the grass, or eating unwashed apples may cause acute reactions in some children.

This raises the question: Are Shawnee students being exposed to pesticides?

Lenape Regional High School District Buildings and Grounds Director, Mr. Anthony Voiro, confirmed that is not the case. Shawnee uses low impact pesticides outdoors and no pesticides indoors. These low impact products, glue traps and proper cleaning procedures, allow for a more healthy building. When it comes to cleaning products, Voiro explains that there is a committee that researches the best products to use, tests them, note the feasibility, and six months later Voiro and colleagues discuss whether the product will be allowed. Additionally, the state has annual checkups on Shawnee’s pesticide use.

Pesticide use and high impact products has been at a minimum at Shawnee. Our product line has dropped significantly over the years, from initially using about 75 products to currently only approximately 20. These products do not include bleach or ammonia and instead are natural and organic products along with low health hazard items. Shawnee uses natural methods of pest control, like vacuuming up ants and glue traps instead of harmful sprays and other chemicals, and uses an air filter in the locker-rooms/weight-rooms that clean the air with ultraviolet light, not chemicals.

Shawnee’s precautions go above and beyond protocol. When the school uses a product, they send an email that states which pesticides were used and when. Assistant Principal, Richard Dodd, sends an additional email to remind everyone about the products used.

In Voiro’s career, there has never been an issue with harmful effects caused by pesticide or chemical exposure.

Circumstances that are not as safe as Shawnee could have negative consequences of exposure. Since pesticides are acutely toxic, they can result in effects that range from uncomfortable to lethal. The Pesticide Action Network-UK describes symptoms of exposure as “respiratory tract irritation, sore throat and/or a cough, allergic sensitization, eye and skin irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, loss of consciousness, extreme weakness, seizures and/or death.”

In addition to those symptoms, these chemicals can cause hormone imbalances, infertility, disruptors in DNA, and inflammation of tissues. The massive issue is the link of pesticides to cancer. Andrea S. Blevins Primeau, Ph.D., MBA, has shown that pesticide exposure from insect repellent, lice treatment, and garden pesticides cause pediatric cancers like lymphoma and leukemia. Primeau states that exposure to specific pesticides can lead to adult cancers like melanoma, colon, bladder, rectal, leukemia, lung, and several others. These effects occur after being exposed to pesticides in large quantities.

But not all hope is lost!

Ty Bolliger clarifies that “exposure to pesticides does not necessarily mean that you will develop cancer, but it certainly will increase your risk. Other factors are at play such as a person’s sensitivity to a specific substance, repeated exposure, and the cumulative effects over time.”

There are ways to prevent the effects of cumulative exposure, such as the use of natural cleaning products around the house as an alternative to bleach or the weed-killer RoundUp.

Regarding produce, there is a generally accepted list, the Dirty Dozen, for foods that should be bought organic if possible. It consists of strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers. Organic or not, produce should be washed thoroughly. Consider soaking the produce in some white vinegar or peeling the skin off.

Becoming aware of the effects of pesticides is significant in preventing cumulative exposure. The fear of chemicals should not make you shun fruits and vegetables, but instead become aware of your environment. Following the produce and household products’ precautions is a good preventative for exposure.

Keep eating that apple to keep the doctor away… but try washing it first!



For further reading on pesticides and cancer: