• Apples, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, spinach, strawberries, table grapes and tomatoes found at produce markets in Gauteng tested positive for endocrine-disruptive chemicals.
  • The mixture of chemicals used in pesticides have properties that allow them to act like a hormone (estrogen) in the body.
  • It is also possible that this can affect children when they reach adulthood, as well as having potential carcinogenic effects when there is long-term exposure.


Biting into an unwashed apple or carrot could have serious consequences for your long-term health.

A study by researchers from the University of Pretoria (UP) found a number of different pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables from fresh produce markets in Johannesburg and Tshwane.  But it is when these pesticides are combined that they could pose serious health risks.

The pesticide concentrations ranged between 0.01 and 0.68 mg/kg and included endosulfan, procymidone, chlorpyrifos and iprodione, which when combined form endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

The study tested 27 fruit and 26 vegetable samples and found 17 samples which contained pesticides. Fourteen tested positive for estrogenic activity (when the body mistakes these endocrine disrupting chemicals for a female hormone). It was found on samples of apples, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, spinach, strawberries, table grapes and tomatoes.

“While concentration levels were low, these chemicals can work together to produce additive or synergistic effects not seen with individual chemicals,” said professor Tiaan de Jager, dean of UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

“The pesticides found in this study have reported endocrine disruptive effects, meaning they can act as the hormone estrogen, and can interfere with normal hormonal regulation in human bodies.” This can affect many different hormone-dependent body processes, explained De Jager.

“EDCs are chemicals made outside of the body that can block, mimic or otherwise disrupt normal hormone signals. This can result in misinformation that leads to diseases and poor health conditions.

"Exposure to EDCs even at very low levels during certain times of life can have substantial and sometimes permanent impacts on health,”  he said.

He added that during highly sensitive life stages such as fetal development and early childhood, it can result in the development of non-communicable diseases, problems with metabolism, as well as immune system dysfunction, or problems with neurodevelopment and reproductive function. “It is also possible that this can affect children when they reach adulthood, as well as having potential carcinogenic effects when there is long-term exposure.”

How to avoid eating pesticides

Washing fruit and veg is always a good idea. However, the pesticide residue level could be so high in some cases that peeling the vegetable or fruit might be better.

And organic does not necessarily mean safe.

De Jager said many pesticides could become volatile and drift from a neighbouring, non-organic farm to affect produce. 

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