Decaf coffee contains a chemical that causes cancer - study

But don't worry - there are alternatives.

For those avoiding caffeine, decaf coffee might seem like a harmless choice but the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) – an American advocacy group - disagrees and has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban a key chemical used in the decaffeination process due to cancer concerns.

The chemical in question is methylene chloride, a colorless liquid used in various industrial processes such as paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and metal cleaning, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The FDA allows methylene chloride as a solvent in decaffeinating coffee, provided residues do not exceed 10 parts per million (0.001%) in decaffeinated coffee.

Based on medical research, methylene chloride has long been recognized as a carcinogen by a number of organizations including the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the World Health Organization.

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In addition to being carcinogenic, methylene chloride can cause other health issues like liver toxicity, neurological effects at higher exposures, and even death, according to the Fund’s arguments.

Due to its toxicity, the EPA banned its sale as a paint stripper in 2019 and proposed a ban on its sale for other consumer and many industrial uses in 2023, according to CNN. However, its use in food is still regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

On the other hand, the National Coffee Association argues that banning this method would be scientifically unfounded and harmful to public health, asserting that European Method decaf poses no risk and may even have health benefits while there is no conclusive research to prove the danger.

The Clean Label Project found methylene chloride in seven out of 17 brands of coffee tested, though the levels were mostly low.

The FDA is currently reviewing the petition from the EDF and other groups.

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Some companies have switched to alternative decaffeination methods. Starbucks, for example, uses liquid carbon dioxide and the Swiss Water Process, which does not involve harmful chemicals.

As the legal battle continues, there are safer decaffeination processes to consider. For example, consumers may look for decaf coffee labeled as solvent-free, Swiss Water processed, or certified organic.

There are many caffeine-free alternatives available, such as beverages made from chicory root, figs, barley, dandelion root, mushroom elixirs, cacao, rooibos, etc.

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