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Decaf Coffee Facing US Ban? Cancer Links Emerge

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Cancer links threaten ban on decaf coffee

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A 2023 survey states that 15.9% of US consumers only drink decaf coffee and many switch to decaf in the afternoon. Well, there’s some bad news for these people. The decaffinated beverage might face a ban in the United States and possibly elsewhere due to new cancer links, not direct but via a solvent used to get the caffeine out of the coffee beans.

Several reports suggest that to take the caffeine out of coffee, methylene chloride is used on the beans. The process involves soaking coffee beans in hot water or steam to remove caffeine, then adding methylene chloride to the water to bind to the caffeine. Then the caffeine compound is skimmed from the surface and the beans are returned to reabsorb the liquid. This process eliminates 96–97% of the caffeine from a batch of coffee.

Methylene Chloride is a colorless liquid and is used in several industrial processes – paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, paint remover manufacturing, and metal cleaning and degreasing’, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

However, it is known to have cancer links, designated as carcinogen by the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program, the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) too considers methylene chloride to be a likely carcinogen. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been weighing the substance since January 2024.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of methylene chloride for most applications. The FDA, currently, allows a small trace — 10 parts per million (0.001%) — of the chemical to remain on beans for consumption. Earlier this year, the agency filed a petition requesting potentially harmful chemicals, including methylene chloride, benzene, ethylene dichloride, and trichloroethylene, be removed from food and beverages.

This could mean a potential, mostly temporary, ban on decaf coffee. While officials have not commented on the beverage ban yet, several agencies have spoken against the chemical. “In addition to being carcinogenic, methylene chloride can cause other health harms, such as liver toxicity and at higher exposures neurological effects, and in some cases death,” Dr. Maria Doa, senior director of chemical policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, had told CNN.

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