Decaf Coffee May Lose Dangerous Chemical

One of the chemicals used to make coffee beans decaffeinated has been restricted.

“This week the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule prohibiting all but ‘critical’ uses of methylene chloride, a highly toxic liquid that is believed to have killed at least 88 people since 1980—mostly workers refinishing bathtubs or doing other home renovations,” according to the New Republic. “Methylene chloride can cause liver damage and is linked to multiple cancers, among other health effects. “

While the EPA banned the chemical’s sale for paint stripping in 2019, it continues to be used for decaffeinating coffee, because the Food and Drug Administration decided in the 1980s that the risk to coffee drinkers was low given how the coffee was processed.



But the  ban “doesn't mean all decaf coffee will be gone forever,” per The Street. “There are other ways to decaffeinate the beverage, mainly using what's called the Swiss Water method, which soaks green coffee beans in water, allowing caffeine to naturally seep out over the course of several hours.”

The EPA rule came after health groups lobbied for it. 

“In January 2024, the FDA filed a petition proposing a major change to food additive regulations,” per Food & Wine. “The petition requests that solvents including methylene chloride, benzene, ethylene dichloride, and trichloroethylene be prohibited or restricted in American food and drugs, as these compounds have been connected to causing cancer in humans and animals. The Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Environmental Health, and Environmental Working Group all advocate for the change.”

Coffee manufacturers are not happy about the rule change.

“National Coffee Association President and CEO William Murray said banning European Method decaf coffee — the type that uses methylene chloride — ‘would defy science and harm American’s health,’” according to CNN. “There is no evidence that European Method decaf presents any risk,” he added via email. “Indeed, the overwhelming weight of independent scientific evidence shows that drinking European Method decaf, like all coffee, is associated with decreased risk of multiple cancers and with other significant health benefits.”

Despite some naysayers, aka “coffee purists,” decaf has been gaining in popularity. 

“Decaf has long been the subject of derision and jokes within the coffee industry and out,” according to Bloomberg. “But it has quietly continued to grow in both quality and popularity.

Like alcohol-free cocktails and meat-free hamburgers, it’s not so strange that consumers are attracted to decaf,  says Adam Paronto, a founder of Chicago’s Reprise Coffee Roasters.

“People want their drugs without their drugs,” Paranto tells Bloomberg. “I hear this phrase all the time, and it’s like: People want their rituals, but they don’t want it to mess them up where they can’t function normally, whether that be their job, or socially or whatever.”

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