PANNA: Pesticides on Apples Endanger U.S. Children


Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

Pesticides on Apples Endanger U.S. Children

March 8, 1999

Ten years after the U.S. public demanded that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ban the cancer-causing pesticide Alar, children are no better protected from pesticides in the nation’s food supply, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The group’s recent analyses of government pesticide records show that multiple pesticides known or suspected to cause brain and nervous system damage, cancer, disruption of the endocrine and immune systems, and a host of other toxic effects are commonly found in foods children regularly consume.

Major findings of EWG’s February 1999 report “How ‘Bout Them Apples?” include:

* Twenty million children ages five and under eat an average of eight pesticides a day, every day — a total of more than 2,900 pesticide exposures per child per year from food alone.

* Every day, 610,000 children ages one through five eat a dose of neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides the U.S. government deems unsafe.

* More than 320,000 of these unsafe exposures are from one pesticide, methyl parathion.

* Pesticide concentrations increased from 1992 through 1996 on seven of eight foods heavily consumed by children.

The EWG called on EPA Administrator Carol Browner to immediately halt use of methyl parathion because of the short-term risks it poses to small children. The group said an emergency cancellation of the pesticide is needed because hundreds of thousands of preschoolers are exceeding government-established safety limits for the pesticide every day, primarily by consumption of apples and peaches. EWG recommended that until methyl parathion is banned, parents shift from apples and peaches to other fresh fruits for preschoolers.

Methyl parathion is an EPA category 1 acute toxin (the most dangerous classification) by oral, dermal and inhalation exposure. Peer-reviewed studies in open literature show that methyl parathion is more toxic to fetal and newborn rats than mature rats. Additional studies show that exposure during critical developmental periods can cause permanent behavioral damage. Methyl parathion is also included on the PAN International list of Dirty Dozen pesticides.

EWG’s report documents that overall pesticide use in the U.S. has increased by about 8% or 60 million pounds since 1989, with high volume field crop and fumigant uses still dominated by older, highly toxic pesticides. Use of pesticides that leave residues on food (insecticides and fungicides) has increased even more. Applications per acre increased 34% for insecticides and fungicides between 1990 and 1995. And, even though the market for organic food continues to grow, it still only represents 1.5% of all food sales.

Use of high risk pesticides in apple production increased dramatically during the 1990s. In particular, use of the cancer-causing EBDC fungicides increased from several hundred thousand pounds in 1991 to more than 1.4 million pounds in 1997. Use of methyl parathion, the most toxic organophosphate (OP) insecticide allowed on food in the U.S., nearly doubled on apples during the same period, from 135,000 to 259,000 pounds. Use of chlorpyrifos, a developmental neurotoxin and potent OP, increased from 468,000 to 571,000 pounds, and use of methoxychlor, a relative of DDT, went from no applications on apples in 1991 to more than 50,000 pounds in 1997. Pesticide use in apples increased even as the number of fruit-bearing acres decreased.

In response to the EWG report, Dean R. Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, stated, “Today’s release by the Environmental Working Group of a report on pesticides and food safety is a shameless attempt to frighten parents and an arrogant power play to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency to ban safe and effective crop protection tools. It is unconscionable that ten years after the debunked Alar scare, EWG is once again foisting on the American public a report rooted in junk science and anti-pesticide use propaganda.”

The EWG points out that although the chemical industry has tried to rewrite the history of Alar as an unfounded food “scare,” numerous studies confirming that it causes cancer show that the public was right to demand its removal from the food supply. Alar, or daminozide, is a plant growth regulator used to keep ripening apples on the tree. Since the 1970s, evidence had been accumulating that a breakdown product of daminozide called UDMH induced cancer in animal tests. This metabolite of Alar was formed when apples containing daminozide residues were heat-processed to make juice or applesauce. Alar was later pulled from the market by its producer, Uniroyal Chemical Co., and EPA confirmed that it posed an unacceptable risk as a probable human carcinogen.

The EWG reports, “How ‘Bout Them Apples?” and “Ten Years Later, Myth of ‘Alar Scare’ Persists: How the Chemical Industry Rewrote the History of a Banned Pesticide,” are available on the EWG web site:

Sources: “How ‘Bout Them Apples?” EWG, 1999; “Ten Years Later, Myth of ‘Alar Scare’ Persists,” EWG, 1999; Comments on Preliminary Risk Assessment Document for Methyl Parathion, EWG, February 12, 1999; “Pest Management at the Crossroads,” Consumers Union, 1996; American Farm Bureau Federation press release, February 25, 1999.

Contact: Environmental Working Group, 1718 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 600, Washington DC 20009; phone (202) 667-6982; fax (202) 232-2592; email



Back to top