Pesticides found in Gauteng fruit and vegetables could pose health risks

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Apples, cabbages, carrots, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, spinach, strawberries, table grapes and tomatoes found at produce markets in Gauteng tested positive for endocrine-disruptive chemicals, a study conducted by the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Health Sciences found.

A Study conducted by the University of Pretoria (UP) into pesticides in fruit and vegetables from fresh produce markets in Johannesburg and Tshwane found that some fruits and vegetables had one to three different pesticide residues which could have harmful effects on the health of anyone consuming them.

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).

“While these concentration levels were low, these chemicals can work together to produce additive or synergistic effects not seen with individual chemicals,” said Prof Tiaan de Jager, Dean of UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences. He was addressing the second International Conference on Food Safety and Security, held in Pretoria recently.

A study on the impact of endocrine disruptors on the food chain was conducted by the UP’s Environmental chemical pollution and Health Research Unit and the Institute for Food Nutrition and Well-Being. It was based on the Ph.D. work of Dr. Thomas Mutengwe, who was supervised by Prof De Jager and UP plant pathologist Prof Lise Korsten, co-director of the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security.

Her research focused on 27 fruits including apples, pears, plums and strawberries and 26 vegetables including cabbages, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes, as these are the most commonly purchased fresh produce.

The pesticides found in this study have endocrine disruptive effects, which means that they can act as the hormone estrogen and that they can interfere with normal hormonal processes in humans. Prof De Jager explained that this can affect many different hormone-dependent processes in the body including reproduction.

Estrogenic activity (when the body mistakes these endocrine disrupting chemicals for a female hormone), was detected in fourteen samples of fruit and vegetables namely apples, cabbages, carrots, lettuce, peaches, pears, plums, spinach, strawberries, table grapes, and tomatoes.

Exposure to EDCs can result in a variety of conditions

Prof De Jager said exposure to EDCs during highly sensitive life stages such as foetal development and early childhood 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.”

He said the food chain is an exposure route of EDCs. Various EDCs can enter the food chain through the environment (animal feeds, pesticides, air pollutants, and personal-care products), be released from food contact materials (bisphenol A, phthalates), or they can come from the diet (phytoestrogens).

Understanding how chemicals enter food can help minimize the risks

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