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#532 - How They Lie -- Part 5: The True Story of Alar -- Part 3, 05-Feb-1997

Alar, the apple pesticide, has become a symbol of environmental
protection gone wrong. In this series, we are examining the historical
record to find the truth about the "Alar scare" of 1989, which is often
cited today as a "hoax," an example of chemical hazards wildly
exaggerated by environmentalists and by consumer protection extremists.

Last week we reported incorrectly that the International Agency for
Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, in 1982 declared UDMH a
"PROBABLE human carcinogen." (UDMH is a contaminant in, and breakdown
byproduct of, Alar.) In fact in 1974,[1] in 1982,[2] and again in 1987,
[3] the IARC declared UDMH a "POSSIBLE human carcinogen." In 1974, the
IARC made the flat statement, "1,1-Dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) is
carcinogenic in mice after oral administration." (pg. 141). However in
1974 and again in 1982 and 1987, the IARC had no data --zero --on the
carcinogenicity of UDMH or Alar in humans. Many workers during those
years were being exposed to UDMH and to Alar/UDMH but no one studied
their health. Uniroyal claimed to have studied its workers and found no
evidence of harm, but to this day the company has refused to release
the data.[4]

In early 1987, the NEW YORK TIMES reported that, responding to a six-
month-long campaign by Ralph Nader, six supermarket chains and nine
food manufacturers were refusing to sell or process apples treated with
daminozide, the generic name for Alar. The supermarkets were Safeway,
A.&P., Giant, Kroger, Grand Union and Farmer Jack's. The manufacturers
were Gerber, Heinz, Beech-Nut, Welch, Duffy-Mott, Seneca Foods, Vacu-
Dry, Quaker Oats and Martinelli.[5]

However, in early 1988, the TIMES reported that an independent
laboratory in Oakland, California had tested apples sold in Safeway
stores and had found Alar present.[6]

In January, 1989, EPA received preliminary results from mouse studies
Uniroyal to undertake in 1987, under pressure from EPA. EPA Acting
Administrator John A. Moore announced February 1 that EPA had decided
to speed up the process that would PROPOSE removing Alar from the
nation's food supply. Making the announcement by press release February
1, 1989, EPA said Uniroyal's studies of Alar and UDMH were showing that
UDMH clearly caused cancer in mice and Alar probably did. Mr. Moore
said, "There is an inescapable and direct correlation between exposure
to UDMH and the development of life-threatening tumors in mice."[7]
Because Alar contains UDMH as a contaminant, and because Alar breaks
down into UDMH when heated, or when metabolized in the human stomach,
EPA had decided to propose banning Alar/UDMH.

Mr. Moore also said that, based on the Uniroyal studies, EPA had
calculated the hazard of cancer among people exposed to UDMH in Alar
for a lifetime; he said the hazard was 45 per million, which is 45
times as high as the one-in-a-million hazard EPA considers

However, in making his February 1 announcement, Mr. Moore also
announced that EPA was extending Uniroyal's license for Alar on apples
for another 18 months, to June, 1990.

Therefore, as we enter February, 1989, when the "Alar scare" will
officially begin, any member of the public following this story now
knows that:

** Uniroyal claims to have data from studies of its workers showing
that exposure to Alar is safe, but the company refuses to release any
data to back up its claims. (Earlier, Uniroyal had released data
showing that Alar did not cause birth defects, but it turned out that
those data had been produced by Industrial Bio-Test [IBT] laboratories
and were found to be invalid.[8] In late 1983, three IBT executives
were jailed for conducting hundreds of fraudulent pesticide-and-health
studies for several major corporations.[9])

** Several large supermarket chains had taken a pledge not to purchase
apples treated with Alar, but some grocery stores had been caught

** EPA says Alar/UDMH will most likely cause cancer in 45 out of every
million people exposed to it for a lifetime --a hazard 45 times as high
as any the agency considers acceptable --yet in the same breath the
agency has extended Alar's license for use on apples for at least
another 18 months.

Against this unreassuring background, on February 26 and 27, 1989, the
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the CBS TV news show, 60
Minutes, released the findings of NRDC's two-year study, INTOLERABLE

(1) The cancer hazards to children from pesticides were much higher
than government officials said they were because children have quite a
different diet from adults (and are very likely more sensitive to
carcinogens than adults are);

(2) Many pesticides are known to affect the central nervous system and
children are more likely to suffer these effects than adults are;

(3) The government's process for getting hazardous pesticides out of
the food supply is too cumbersome and slow to protect public health.

CBS News chose to highlight one aspect of the NRDC report: the cancer
hazard to children from one pesticide: Alar on apples. CBS displayed a
skull and cross bones on an apple and told its viewers that Alar was a
dangerous carcinogen. In response, some school boards pulled apples
from their school menus, and apple sales plummeted in February and
didn't recover until May.[11]

The NRDC report was not just about Alar; it was not even mainly about
Alar. By stressing Alar in the first few minutes of its 60 Minutes
program, CBS News skewed coverage of the NRDC report to a point where
people today think that NRDC wrote only about Alar. For example, the
NRDC report made concluded that some 3 million U.S. children regularly
eat combinations of brain-damaging pesticides at exposure levels
greater than allowable EPA standards. This important aspect of the NRDC
study disappeared from view in the flurry over Alar.

Because this is a history of Alar, we too will focus on that aspect of
NRDC's report.

NRDC's report said that, among 22 million U.S. pre-school children,
4700 to 6000 would eventually get cancer from exposure to Alar/UDMH.
This translates into about 250 cancers per million children. Naturally,
if exposure continued, this cancer hazard would continue to develop at
this rate into the future.

Two groups responded immediately and negatively to NRDC's assessment of
the Alar hazard to children: the government (EPA, the Food and Drug
Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and Uniroyal
and the apple growers. Extremist libertarian journalists and
consultants to the chemical industry piled on later to create the
enduring mythology of the "Alar scare."

The government was clearly stung by the NRDC report, and EPA acting
chief John A. Moore counter-attacked quickly.[12] He made 4 points:

1. Mr. Moore said EPA's assessment of the Alar hazard was "severely at
odds" with NRDC's assessment. He said NRDC's hazard estimates are "up
to 100 times higher than EPA's estimates."

2. He went on to assure the public that EPA's risk assessment
techniques are based on "highly conservative assumptions."

3. He said EPA's calculations "allow us to ensure that no particular
group--such as infants and children--receives exposure that is likely
to cause unreasonable risks."

4. NRDC's report was "gravely misleading" because it "relied on data
that had been rejected in scientific peer review, along with food
consumption data of unproven validity."

It turns out that none of these points is valid. Here is new
information relevant to Mr. Moore's 4 points in reverse order:

4. In its risk assessments of Alar, EPA relied on food consumption data
gathered by USDA in 1977. NRDC used food consumption data gathered by
USDA in 1985. The more current data was based on a smaller sample, but
was still the best estimate of food consumption by Americans available
in 1989. The more recent data, which NRDC used, showed that daily fruit
consumption by pre-schoolers had increased 30% since 1977. The 1985
data were more suitable for Alar risk assessments than the 1977 data.

3. In 1989, EPA was not taking any specific steps to assure that
infants and children were protected from pesticides --a point the
National Academy of Sciences made again and again in a book-length
study published in 1993.[14] In 1989, EPA risk estimates treated
children as if they were adults even though Mr. Moore himself said,
"EPA is also concerned about the possibility that children and infants
may be more sensitive to toxic effects of pesticide residues in their
diets than are adults."[12] EPA may have been concerned, but it did not
act on that concern.

2. EPA's risk assessment techniques are not necessarily conservative.
In December, 1988, a U.S. government statistician examined a database
of 1212 laboratory animal experiments on 308 chemicals and concluded
that EPA's cancer risk assessment technique "is not conservative when
applied in the usual way to animal data."[15]

1. EPA on February 1, 1989, calculated the hazard of Alar to adults to
be 45 in a million. NRDC estimated the hazard to children to be 250 in
a million. NRDC's estimate was not anywhere near 100 times greater than
EPA's. As risk assessments go, their estimates were remarkably similar.

NRDC did use an EPA cancer potency number which the Science Advisory
Panel (SAP) had said shouldn't be relied upon. (See REHW #530, #531.)
However, EPA's own Cancer Assessment Group in 1987 had developed the
potency number, a year AFTER the SAP had said it shouldn't be done. If
it was good enough for EPA, why shouldn't it be good enough for NRDC?
That cancer potency factor was the best data available at the time NRDC
used it and, as we shall see when we continue this series, new data
from Uniroyal's own studies reveal that NRDC wasn't far off the mark.
However the Libertarian science-fiction attacks on NRDC and on EPA were
soon to begin in earnest.

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


VOLUME 4 (Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer,
1974), pg. 137.

France: International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1982), pg. 268 in
Appendix 2.

VOLUMES 1 TO 42, SUPPLEMENT 7 (Lyon, France: International Agency for
Research on Cancer, 1987), pg. 62.

[4] Beth Rosenberg, "The Story of the Alar Ban: Politics and Unforeseen
Consequences," NEW SOLUTIONS Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter 1996), pgs. 34-50.
Subscriptions to the quarterly NEW SOLUTIONS, are $40/year from: P.O.
Box 281200, Lakewood, Colorado 80228-8200; phone (303) 987-2229.

[5] Florence Fabricant, "Food Notes," NEW YORK TIMES January 7, 1987,
pg. C7.

[6] Keith Schneider, "Supermarket Chain Accused of Breaking Vow on
Pesticide," NEW YORK TIMES February 3, 1988, pg. B6.

[7] Al Heier, "EPA Accelerates Process to Cancel Daminozide [Alar] Uses
on Apples; Extends Tolerance," EPA ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS [press release]
February 1, 1989. Heier can be reached at (202) 260-4374.

[8] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, PESTICIDE
(Geneva, Switzerland: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations, 1984), pg. 176, says, "The teratogenicity study [of Alar]
reviewed by the Meeting was conducted by Industrial Bio-Test
Laboratories (IBT) and had been found invalid."

[9] "Three Who Falsified Product-Safety Tests Get Prison Sentences,"
WALL STREET JOURNAL April 10, 1984, pg. unknown.

[10] Bradford H. Sewell, Robin M. Whyatt and others, INTOLERABLE RISK:
PESTICIDES IN OUR CHILDREN'S FOOD (New York: Natural Resources Defense
Council, 1989). This report is out of print and no longer available
from NRDC.

[11] Paul Roberts, "The Big Red Machine: Washington's battle-scarred
billion-dollar apple industry has proved there is life after Alar,"
SEATTLE WEEKLY February 23, 1994, pgs. 16-23.

[12] John A. Moore, "Speaking of Data: The Alar Controversy," EPA
JOURNAL Vol. 15, No. 3 (May/June, 1989), pgs. 5-9.

[13] Leslie Roberts, "Pesticides and Kids," SCIENCE Vol. 243 No. 4896
(March 10, 1989), pgs. 1280-1281.

[14] Philip J. Landrigan and others, PESTICIDES IN THE DIETS OF INFANTS
AND CHILDREN (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993).

[15] John C. Bailar III and others, "One-hit models of carcinogenesis:
Conservative or not?" RISK ANALYSIS Vol. 8, No. 4 (1988), pgs. 485-497.
And see Leslie Roberts, "Is risk assessment conservative?" SCIENCE Vol.
243, No. 4898 (March 24, 1989), pg. 1553.

Descriptor terms: alar; pesticides; apples; nrdc; natural resources
defense council; epa; bans; regulation; daminozide; udmh; carcinogens;
cancer; uniroyal; iarc; carcinogen assessment group; cag; intolerable
risk: pesticides in our children's food; ralph nader; cbs tv; 60
minutes; fda; usda; frank young; testing methods; pam ii; conditt; john
rice; international apple institute; b-nine;