WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency declined today to ban a pesticide widely used on apples and other produce, saying no proof could be found for its earlier assertion that the product causes cancer.
Instead, the EPA announced plans to place some modest restrictions on the use of daminozide, marketed by Uniroyal under the name Alar, while the company conducts new tests on the chemical's health effects.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, a private environmental group, immediately threatened to bring suit against the agency to force a ban.
Last August, the EPA proposed to ban the spraying of daminozide on apples and other fruit.
In sidestepping a ban, however, the EPA said today that information based on new calculations showed the chemical is not nearly as prevalent in Americans' diets as had been thought five months ago.
"The agency has no reason to believe that use of Alar . . . poses some unreasonable risk" to consumers, said John A. Moore, EPA assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances.
A Uniroyal spokeswoman said the company is pleased with the "valid scientific decision" made by the agency, and food processors welcomed the outcome. But environmentalists said they are distressed, and charged that the EPA is not fulfilling its mandate to protect public health.
"The primary group of concern is children," said Lawrie Mott, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, adding that their risk from the chemical is far higher than that of adults because children consume more food, such as apple juice and applesauce, likely to contain the chemical.
"Today's interim final decision . . . serves as a classic textbook case of EPA inaction and corporate irresponsibility," Mott said.
Daminozide, while regulated as a pesticide, actually kills no pests. It is used primarily to regulate plant growth, produce brighter-colored apples, prevent apples from dropping off trees and give them a longer shelf life once picked. It also is used in lesser amounts on Concord grapes, peanuts, cherries, peaches, pears, plums and a few vegetables.