Are consumers shunning apples, or buying them as enthusiastically as ever? The Washington state apple industry Friday reported an increase in sales, indicating their product is popular despite concerns over use of a possibly hazardous chemical.

But officials for the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose report last week said there was an increased risk of cancer for children who eat apples treated with Alar, a chemical which regulates the fruit's growth, questioned the sales figures."I don't think you can believe those figures," said Janet Hathaway, an NRDC attorney and co-author of the report "Intolerable Risk: Pesticides In Our Children's Food."

Hathaway said virtually every parent she has talked to recently is looking for organic sources of apples, and that she has received phone calls from growers saying they cannot sell Alar-treated apples.

The Washington apple industry, which supplies about two-thirds of the nation's supermarket apples this time of year, reported shipping a record 1.56 million 42-pound boxes between March 2 and March 9, said Bill DeWitt of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.

That was up from 1.51 million boxes the week before.