Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts, health tips, promotions to support our work and more from EWG. You can opt-out at any time. [Privacy]

 

Myth 6: Alar on apples was a "scare" indicative of environmentalists' use of emotion

May 1, 1995

Pesticide Industry Propaganda: The Real Story: Myth 6: Alar on apples was a "scare" indicative of environmentalists' use of emotion

Myth #6: Alar on apples was a "scare," indicative of environmentalists' use of emotion and scare tactics, not sound science.

The EPA's initial decision to ban Alar has been reaffirmed by subsequent industry-sponsored animal tests, which led the agency to quietly ban the chemical for all food uses in 1992. The unavoidable breakdown product of Alar, (asymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine, UDMH) routinely found in apple juice and apple sauce, has been classified by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen, and at the time it was discontinued for use on apples in 1989 it was the most potent carcinogenic pesticide allowed in the U.S. food supply.

Meanwhile, apple production, sales, and profits have soared since Alar was banned for use on apples. Since 1989, apple industry revenues have increased by nearly 50 percent, and production has increased by nearly 10 percent (USDA 1993a). Per capita consumption of apple products has remained steady since Alar was removed from the market (USDA 1993b).

At the time of the Alar report on 60 Minutes, two states (Massachusetts and New York) had already banned the chemical, and the American Academy of Pediatrics had urged such a ban at the federal level. A subsequent lawsuit brought by apple growers against CBS and 60 Minutes was dismissed, with the judge noting "that governmental methodology fails to take into consideration the distinct hazards faced by preschoolers. The government is in grievous error when allowable exposures are calculated...without regard for the age at which exposure occurs."

In 1993, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed the central message of the Alar case, which is that infants and young children need greater protection from pesticides. Finding that federal calculations for allowable levels of pesticides do not account for increased childhood consumption of fruit, for children's lower body weight, or for their heightened sensitivity, NAS called for an overhaul of regulatory procedures specifically to protect kids (NRC 1993a).