We’d like to think that Washington apple growers of the past didn’t know any better. Heck, older generations didn’t really know the dangers of many things. Take smoking cigarettes for example. It took decades for people to really catch on to the latent dangers of smoking.
Immediate dangers are a lot easier for us humans to realize (a shark swimming at you, choking, snake bite, etc). For some reason long term, latent danger is just hard for us to grasp as humans. If we can’t see or immediately feel something hurting us, we tend to think it’s not that bad.
The industry still widely (and I mean really widely) uses toxic chemicals to grow apples. They’re just different now than the Lead and Arsenic of the past. They now use things like Chlorpyrifos (trade names Lorsban™ and Dursban™). They spray these toxic insecticides into the air in giant clouds and it drifts around.
I cannot believe that the apple growers in Washington state currently still use this stuff. The EPA banned household use of Chlorpyrifos about 15 years ago, but its still allowed to be used commercially!