An apple a day may not keep the doctor away.

But it won't make you sick either, according to some agriculture specialists, despite recent scientific reports linking chemically treated apples to cancer.Still, some area preschools aren't taking any chances.

The schools this week began eliminating apples and apple products from their menus after a "60 Minutes" report warned that the chemical Alar, used by some apple growers, is carcinogenic and has increased the incidence of cancer among preschoolers.

Alar, once used extensively as a growth hormone, was recalled by the federal Food and Drug Administration about two years ago because its potential threat to human health.

Unlike contact pesticides, Alar is absorbed into the fruit, where it affects the growth of the cells. It thus cannot be washed or pealed off.

Although it's back on the market, a second proposal is before the federal agency to have sales banned.

Agriculture specialists think the chemical has gotten a bad rap and apple growers are suffering because of it.

"It was a boon (for apple growers) because it gave them the opportunity to get better color in the fruit and the apples stored longer in controlled atmosphere storage," said Paul Rasmussen, associate director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station at Utah State University. "It was very critical in the apple business."

Despite its benefits, Rasmussen said the majority of apple growers aren't now using Alar. The reason is simple: Many grocery chains have refused to purchase apples treated with it.

Smith's Food King is one of those chains.

Jim Dodge, produce buyer for Smith's, said the chain hasn't purchased any apples from growers using Alar since the first recall. Half of the chain's apples are Utah grown; the other 50 percent are purchased from Washington State.

Consequently, the apples on Smith's shelves are a little lighter in color. "But basically Utah grows a hard apple anyway, so the shelf life hasn't been affected."

Because the overall use of the chemical by apple growers has been dramatically reduced, agricultural specialists say school officials dumping the fruit are overreacting.

But one school owner makes no apology for being cautious.

"Because of the concern expressed by several parents, we are going to stop serving apples and apple juice until we can be assured our source of apples and apple products is safe," said Jane Hosking, owner of the Learning Tree Day Care Centers in Murray and West Valley City.

Hosking admits that will be no easy task.

Dietary regulations imposed by the federal government have necessitated that the school serve fruit and fruit products _ juice, sauce, fruit cups _ at least twice a day.

Hosking said apple juice is the childrens' favorite drink, and it may take time for the children to adjust to cranberry and grape juice.

"Fortunately, spring is coming so we will have a variety of fruit from which to choose," she said. "I think we may be overreacting, but I suppose it's better to be safe than sorry."

Edman Sturgeon, supervisor and investigator with the FDA in Salt Lake City, is convinced the apples pose no danger to Utah children.

"As far as I know, we never had a problem with Alar being used above the EPA limits in Utah," he said. "I don't know of anything that would substantiate there there have been numerous cases of cancer caused by the pesticide."

Doyle Matthews, dean of USU's College of Agriculture and director of the agriculture station, agrees.

The specialist is urging Utahns not to panic until more data on the chemical are collected.

"These things are closely scrutinized by the government and the levels arrived at are usually the very safe level, with a protection factor built in," Matthews said.