Q: What should we conclude from the California court case about a toxic chemical in coffee?
A: This lawsuit, filed by an organization called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, cites the presence of acrylamide in coffee. The International Agency for Research on Cancer describes acrylamide as a human neurotoxin and a "group 2A probable carcinogen."
With those classifications, the chemical certainly does not sound like something people want floating in their morning pick-me-up. But experts said coffee drinkers should not change their habits on the basis of the new ruling.
"The name, 'acrylamide,' it makes it sound scary," said Michelle Francl, a chemist at Bryn Mawr College. But, she pointed out, a liquid labeled "oxidane" sounds ominous, even though that's a fancy term for water.
Rodents fed massive amounts of acrylamide do develop cancer. But anything — including water and oxygen — can be unsafe at the wrong dosage. Those lab rats and mice were dosed at rates 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than what humans consume in food.
Links between cancer and acrylamide in humans are weak, said Timothy Rebbeck, a professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
"From a practical standpoint, would we recommend people stop drinking coffee as a result of the judge's decision? No," Lichtenfeld said J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer. "That's not what the science shows us."
— Ben Guarino and Eli Rosenberg, The Washington Post