Proposed CA bill would ban methylene chloride from decaf coffee production

ByRob Hayes KABC logo
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Proposed California bill would ban this chemical in decaf coffee
Coffee companies use methylene chloride to remove caffeine, but one California lawmakers says it's a known carcinogen and should no longer be used.

People who drink decaffeinated coffee may think they're getting a healthier product than regular coffee, but health experts and consumer transparency advocates are warning a chemical used to remove the caffeine is a known carcinogen, and they're supporting legislation to ban it.

The chemical in question is methylene chloride, a colorless liquid that federal regulators have already banned in certain manufacturing and industrial processes, but not in food or drinks.

Coffee companies use methylene chloride to remove caffeine, something that one California lawmaker says has to end.

"We are using a known carcinogen to decaffeinate coffee," said California Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, the author of Assembly Bill 2066, which would ban methylene chloride from all coffee products in the state.

"There are three ways of decaffeinating coffee, going through the process. This is the only one that uses a known carcinogen to decaffeinate it."

The National Coffee Association says the proposed ban is unjustified and unnecessary. Its president and CEO Bill Murray issued this statement in response:

"The activists sponsoring this bill have not presented any evidence to justify banning the most common type of decaf, because none exists. Not only is there no evidence of any health risk, but in fact decades of independent scientific evidence demonstrate that drinking European Method decaf, like all coffee, is associated with reduced risk of multiple cancers and chronic diseases. The World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the World Cancer Research Fund, and California's own Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment agree."

However, consumer transparency groups like the Clean Label Project, a non-profit focused on transparency in food and consumer product labeling, say the use of methylene chloride is especially problematic because decaf drinkers think they're getting something healthier than regular coffee.

"Over 70% of consumers who reach for decaffeinated coffee are pregnant women or people with health conditions," said Jaclyn Bowen, Executive Director of the Clean Label Project. "There are other very reasonable, affordable and effective means to decaffeinate coffee. It doesn't mean we have to use this harsh chemical."

Health experts say it's important for people to be aware of what they consume to help ward off future health issues.

"You have literally millions, maybe billions of people, who drink coffee everyday," said oncologist Dr. Sidney Stoll of Dignity Health Northridge Hospital. "People want to live a long time, people want to live a healthy life, and it's really important to know what you're ingesting, what exactly you're putting inside your body."

If the methylene chloride ban becomes law in California, it will go into effect January 2027.