Alar: The EPA’s Mismanagement of an Agricultural Chemical

  • Janet S. Hathaway


Consumers Union found Alar in almost three-fourths of the apple juice it sampled in 1988 and 1989.1 About a third of the apples tested by CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May of 1989 contained the chemical.2 Alar, a growth regulator which enhances firmness and color in apples and other fruit, is no longer sold in the United States for use on food. Uniroyal, the sole manufacturer of the chemical, voluntarily stopped most domestic sales in June of 19893 and in October announced a parallel cessation of overseas sales.4 The chemical continues to be used, but only on ornamental plants and flowers. In March 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency set a schedule to phase down the legal limit for Alar residues in food (the “tolerance” level) and to make any detectable amount of Alar illegal in 1991.5 What led to this precipitous decline in the use of a popular agricultural chemical? What can we learn from the Alar controversy about the power of consumers and environmental activists to reduce or eliminate the most dangerous pesticides in our food?


Environmental Protection Agency Apple Juice Media Circuit Special Review Probable Human Carcinogen 
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    EPA letter to International Apple Institute, February 1, 1989, p. 2. EPA never publicly issued a calculation of the lifetime risk from Alar for childhood exposure. However, government data indicated that preschool children’s exposure to apple juice (the major dietary contributor of UDMH) was 18 times that of average adults. Therefore, it is quite likely that if EPA had calculated the risk to average preschool children, its risk estimate would have been even higher than NRDC’s estimate of 240 cancers in a million.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc. 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janet S. Hathaway
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural Resources Defense CouncilWashington, DC

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