What was it that, as a kid, your mom or your aunt told you to do when you first entered their home? It was, “Have a piece of fruit!” The fruit was on the table, mounded up in a bowl, shining and waiting for you to take a juicy apple, sink your teeth in and smile.
Who knew that the fruit that they were so eager for us to eat would hide a deadly secret devised, in part, by Nazis intent on killing people? How is there any connection between healthful fruit and a substance meant to kill, not nourish? And why is it still being used today?
A review of where and how these dangerous materials came to be is in order and it is not surprising that most of us know nothing about its origins. Neither do we know about our own country’s interest in developing chemical weapons and their willingness to do whatever was necessary to accomplish that goal, including embracing Nazis.
The Quest for Pesticides Begins
During WWII, Hitler wanted his nation to be devoid of any need to import foods from surrounding countries. The “Thousand-year Reich” was to be self-sufficient in all things, but especially in food. He, therefore, gave his chemists the task of developing new pesticides that would prevent any crop destruction. In developing these pesticides an unusual discovery was to prove to be incredibly dangerous and highly toxic to human beings.
The chemist given this task tried several concoctions and finally came up with a fluorine-sulfur-based pesticide that combined both phosphorus and cyanide. The chemist himself, after being exposed to a minute amount of the material, was hospitalized for several weeks but this was a good sign that he was on the right track. The poison, undoubtedly, in diluted solutions could destroy food pests but also caused vomiting, shortness of breath, pupil dilation, drooling, sweating, diarrhea and death in mammals on which they tested it.
They considered the experiment unsuccessful because the Nazis wanted it to be useful on pests, not animals and, since it was highly toxic to humans, that was a major problem. The researcher in his laboratory had one of those light-bulb moments and alerted the German military to the use of this new material he had compounded. From there, they picked up the ball and began to make a series of changes to the basic chemical structure. It was to be weaponized.
Killing Gases Not Pesticides
After an analysis of the beginning compound, chemists at another German laboratory devised yet another material which was so toxic that they named it Tabun which is the German word for “taboo.” Chemicals which were being used in warfare killed the military, but the victims took hours or days to die; Taban killed them in 20 minutes.
The material was further synthesized several times into a material that could be easily dispersed and still retain its deadly result. Forced labor prisoners died in the hundreds after being exposed to the material on which they were working in the weaponized mode of delivery. A new product, called Sarin, was then produced. Chemical industry personnel vehemently deny that current pesticides are based in any way or related to in any aspect to this substance.
A series of changes were then further made to the original formula and it was determined that it could work as an important nerve agent to block enzyme action. Once blocked this would result in an inability of muscles to communicate with one another, resulting in paralysis and death.
After WWII the US military discovered that the Nazis had a formidable new nerve agent that could be deployed on the battlefield. The decision was made to bring the material and its chemical properties work to the United States and the chemists would be needed, as well. The material is known in the US as chlorpyrifos, an incredibly toxic pesticide that will harm anyone who uses it and will endanger the environment by getting into the soil and groundwater.
Widely used in agriculture, it is sprayed on crops and intended to kill pests that would damage them. A toxic substance, it causes neurodevelopmental harm for children. Research has found that it is responsible for lower birth weight, reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders and delayed motor development.
It can also cause respiratory paralysis and death in extreme cases. Sometimes, children who have been exposed to these substances have been misdiagnosed as having the psychiatric disorder of ADHD (Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder).
The US government had an opportunity to ban these types of pesticides in 2017 and decided not to even though they found that levels in children could be as high as 140 times over what they consider a safe limit. There is no safe level of this pesticide in drinking water and the drift of an application is unsafe at 300 feet from the edge of the field which is treated.
Unsafe levels of this toxin have been found in schools, homes and communities in agricultural areas. It has been estimated that farms in California use more than 1 million pounds of chlorpyrifos yearly. The amount used in the fields is only one-fourth of the concentration used to kill Nazi prisoners during WWII. The EPA has found there are no safe uses of this material and no safe levels.
A Deal with the Devil
The tale of how the deadly Nazi nerve gas reached the United States is straightforward as shown; the US military wanted weapons of war and the Nazi chemists had one of the most deadly.
After World War II, realizing that there was a trove of intellectual talent within the Nazi organization, the US military brought that talent to our country. Nazi scientists would not have been welcomed here and, knowing that our government carefully reconstructed resumes and background information to sanitize all the incoming former-Nazi scientists. Any association with Hitler, the Nazis or concentration/slave labor camps was wiped from their records.
In this way, they could bring in talent in neurotoxins and missiles without causing undo ire in the American public. The deal with the devil had been made and the resumes showed no evidence of prior involvement in Nazi operations of killing persons with the products of their laboratories.
A Break for the Environment
A mousey, unassuming 50s housewife type, Rachel Carson, flipped the science world on end when she wrote an explosive, best-selling book, Silent Spring, on the environment. Since its publication in 1962, the world has moved steadily forward in pesticide development, but the dangers still remain not only in our foods but our water, the air we breathe and the earth upon which we walk.
Scientists are now more aware than ever of the dangers science can bring in terms of discoveries and they have spoken out about pesticides in particular.
According to Dr. Philip Landrigan, of Boston College’s Global Public Health Program and Global Observatory on Pollution and Health at the Shiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, “Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies and young children, so 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…”
Children are at exceptional risk from pesticides according to the EPA. “Specifically, there is evidence of delays in mental development in infants (24–36 months), attention problems and autism spectrum disorder in early childhood, and intelligence decrements in school-age children who were exposed…”
“Babies who are exposed to pesticides prenatally are more likely to have decreased birth weight and length, as well as a smaller head size…which may predispose them to additional health concerns.” In addition, “chronic health effects of pesticides are also numerous and include respiratory and memory disorders, cancer, neurological deficits, Parkinson’s disease, autism, infertility, congenital birth defects, and DNA damage.”
The EPA, in a recent decision, has refused to ban “Chlorpyrifos that accounted for neurodevelopmental impacts. Among other conclusions, the new risk assessment found unacceptable levels of risk for children and adults; specifically, that food exposures to all age groups exceeded safe levels, and the most sensitive group, children 1 to 2 years old, are exposed to 140 times the “safe” levels.” Despite this, the products are still available and being actively used.
Which Fruits & Vegetables Are “Dirty”
The current “darling” vegetable of foodies isn’t so wonderful when you read what has been discovered on this leafy vegetable. “USDA tests reveal that the popular health food kale is among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. More than 92 percent of kale samples had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues. The most frequently detected pesticide, found on nearly 60 percent of kale samples, was Dacthal, or DCPA — classified by the Environmental Protection Agency since 1995 as a possible human carcinogen, and prohibited for use in Europe since 2009.”
Anyone wishing to read one of the full USDA reports on pesticides (2018) can access it online.
Tests on the urine of persons who did not eat organic fruits and vegetables showed that it contained up to 40 different pesticides. The presence of these toxins in adults is troubling, however, when we consider what The American Academy of Pediatrics has said about the effects of pesticides in children, is more than a cause for concern. In a 2012 report on the subject, it declared that children have “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.”
The US Department of Agriculture has provided a list of fruits and vegetables which contain the highest amount of pesticide residues and strawberries and spinach lead the list. After testing over 20 different pesticides, strawberries and spinach contained twice the residue by weight of any other fruit or vegetable. The pesticides remain on the fruits and vegetables even after washing and peeling.
The “Dirty Dozen” Fruits & Vegetables
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, listed their Dirty Dozen for 2019:
The “Clean Fifteen” Fruits & Vegetables
The EWG’s Clean Fifteen for 2019 include:
Frozen sweet peas
Can We Clean the Pesticides Off the Food?
Does baking soda neutralize or eliminate pesticides on the external areas of fruits and vegetables? And what about any pesticides that may have gotten through the skin and into the fruit or vegetable itself? Consumers Union has recommended baking soda to purify fruits and vegetables from these.
While Consumers Union has recommended baking soda as an acceptable means to remove pesticides, The National Pesticide Information Center has indicated the following:
1. running the produce under cold water for at least 20 seconds
2. rubbing the skin of vegetables or fruits to clean off the residue
3. scrubbing tough skins
4. peeling may be a viable means of removing pesticides
5. throwing away the outer leaves of any leafy vegetables such as lettuce or kale.
However, this is no guarantee that pesticide residue will not get into your body, even if you take these measures to protect yourself.
We have to ask what happens to pesticides that can penetrate the outer skin of the foods and remain within the food itself? Here, what is the alternative for anyone wishing to avoid contamination of this sort? The answer is obvious; eat organic foods. Yes, they may be more expensive, but how do you measure expense against health?
This same information center has indicated that, “No washing method is 100% effective for removing all pesticide residues.” Recommendations, therefore, seem to be of the caveat emptor type once again.
Consumption of pesticides can cause, as we have seen, several serious medical problems in children and in adults and may be responsible for cancer, as has been shown by recent lawsuits. To date, 13,400 have been lodged against one company, Monsanto and Bayer AG. One of the suits resulted in a $2 billion award to one couple.
The decision regarding which fruits and vegetables to buy is left up to the consumer to be informed and to act in a responsible way.