FDA Backs Carcinogen in Decaffeinated Coffee

Associated Press

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning the use of methylene chloride in hair sprays because it can cause cancer in animals, but would allow its continued use in decaffeinating coffee.

Two prominent consumer advocates were quick to condemn the proposal, which was carried last week in the Federal Register.

"It's an insane policy to allow the use of an unnecessary and acknowledged carcinogen," said Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Petition to Be Filed

"We are going to be . . . filing a petition with the FDA, asking them to revoke the permission to use methylene chloride in decaffeinating coffee," said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, head of the Health Research Group, in an interview Saturday.

"Since there is a much safer alternative for decaffeinating coffee, why should the FDA be allowing any amount of a carcinogen? Major manufacturers of decaffeinated coffee, such as Nestle's, have stopped using this ingredient because they are worried about the safety of it," Wolfe said.

He said the proposal violated an amendment to the Food and Drug Act that bars the use in food of any substance that has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

The FDA said that it would allow public comment on the proposal until Feb. 18, and that it would take effect 60 days afterward.

Use as a Solvent

Methylene chloride is a volatile chemical used as a solvent and flame suppressant in hair sprays, in which it serves to speed the drying and setting of applied resins, the FDA said. It is also used by some manufacturers as a solvent to remove caffeine from coffee.

The agency cited tests that it said showed "methylene chloride is an animal carcinogen by inhalation and may be carcinogenic to humans."

It said, however, that "the agency has sufficient information to determine that the existing methylene chloride residue level for decaffeinated coffee is safe."

The FDA said that the amount of the chemical entering the body from consuming treated coffee was too small to be dangerous.

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