An Apple a Day…May Kill You? Controversial Diphenylamine on 80 Percent of U.S. Apples


Non-organic apples sold in the U.S. may contain a controversial chemical banned in Europe. The chemical diphenylamine (DPA), was banned by the EU in 2012 when manufacturers failed to prove that it did not pose any human health risks. European officials also noted the presence of nitrosamines on DPA-treated fruit. Nitrosamines are considered potent carcinogens.

According to the Environmental Working Group, which released the USDA data on DPA, “after harvest, farmers and packers drench most conventionally-raised apples with diphenylamine, known as DPA, which helps prevent ‘storage scald,’ blackening or browning of fruit skin during long months of cold storage.” While regulated as a pesticide, DPA’s primary function is as a “growth regulator” that slows fruit skin discoloration during storage.

“In 2012 the European Food Safety Authority, a government body that evaluates the risk of pesticides for the European Commission, concluded that the industry had not provided sufficient information and that the many data gaps made it impossible to confirm the safety of DPA,” EWG said in a press release. “The full Commission banned the use of DPA on European apples and pears in June 2012. In March of this year, the EC reduced the allowable level of DPA on imports to 0.1 part per million. The average concentration of DPA on U.S. apples is roughly four times higher at 0.42 parts per million.”

The chemical was registered for use in the U.S. in 1962, and as of 2010, tests conducted by the USDA on raw apples found DPA residue on 80 percent of the apple samples. DPA residue was found more often, and in greater concentrations than most other pesticides on apples, reports EWG. The group also noted that DPA was detected in apple juice and applesauce as well as some pear products.

“While it is not yet clear that DPA is risky to public health, European Commission officials asked questions that the chemicals’ makers could not answer,” said EWG senior scientist Sonya Lunder. “The EC officials banned outright any further use of DPA on the apples cultivated in the European Union until they are confident it is safe. Europe’s action should cause American policymakers to take a new look at this chemical.”

The EPA has yet to respond to the European ban. EWG reports that scientists in the agency’s Pesticide Office said they were “unaware of the new European ban and import restrictions,” on DPA.

“Americans, particularly parents of young children, deserve the same level of concern from our government,” said Lunder. “Apples, apple juice and applesauce are staples in the diets of millions of children, so if there are potential risks to kids from DPA, we need to know now.”

According to the EWG, Americans eat nearly 10 pounds per person of raw apples every year. “Consequently, even low levels of nitrosamines on raw apples, or in apple juice and applesauce could potentially pose a risk to human health,” the group said.

Apples already top the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list for the last several years for containing higher levels of pesticides than other fruits and vegetables.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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