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Dioxin in filters: a 1991 update.

Dioxin in filters: a 1991 update

Since the 1985 discovery of dioxin in the effluent and sludge from some U.S. paper mills, diverse groups have been concerned about dioxin in paper and in the environment around those mills. Questions of concern came from all corners--the environmentalists, paper manufacturers, food companies, coffee and tea filter manufacturers, food government, media and the consumer. Since that discovery five years ago, there has been careful scrutiny of the papermaking process and products and a wide range of efforts have been made to reduced the presence of dioxin in paper products and in the environment.

Much has occurred of interest and relevance to the coffee and tea industry since that initial discovery. Paper mills have begun to monitor levels of dioxin in discharges and paper products. There have been many process changes, by mills, that have affected the level of dioxin in paper products. There have been new products introduced into the marketplace by the coffee and tea industry based on new processing technology and on the increased interest by the public in environmental issues. With these activities occurring simultaneously, it is important to stop and provide a current status report on the many changes that have occurred that affect the coffee industry.

In order to provide an update on this complex and multi-faceted issue this article will try to answer some basic questions. What has happened in the industry since the first discovery of dioxin in paper during the EPA Congressional study? What is dioxin and why is it considered dangerous to living things? How is it created, what are the most common sources of it? What is considered safe and unsafe levels of dioxin? How does the dioxin issue relate specifically to coffee filter products? What has been and is being done by the paper and coffee filter industries to deal with this complex environmental issue and what are the results of these efforts?

A Relevant Chronology

In 1983, Congress directed EPA to study the amount of dioxin in the environment. This project became known as the National Dioxin Study.

As late as 1984, studies indicated no association of dioxin with the paper industry. In late 1985, EPA detected dioxins in fish taken downstream from pulp and paper mills using a chlorine bleaching process. Dioxins were also detected in sludges from the mills' wastewater treatment system. Out of these findings, came two cooperative studies between the EPA and the paper industry. The EPA/API 5-mill Screening Study (1986-87) established the linkage between dioxin and the pulp bleaching process. The EPA/API 104-Mill Study (1988) provided full industry data on all mills using chlorine bleaching processing.

At that time the EPA was facing a lawsuit by the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation for not establishing regulations to reduce dioxin in the environment from all sources. This case resulted in a court settlement where the EPA, in part, agreed to: 1. prepare an assessment of paper mill waste water, wastewater sludge and paper products; 2. examine potential risks associated with the pulp bleaching process; 3. announce its findings and possible plans for regulation of dioxin in the pulp and paper industry by April 1990.

The EPA asked the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to provide risk assessments on paper products under their jurisdiction. The FDA then asked the paper industry for analytic data on the presence of dioxin in food contact paper and to conduct migration studies. It must be pointed out that the levels discussed are very, very low amounts and that there are only three commercial laboratories in the U.S. capable of preparing the required sensitive analysis. Among the key paper products on the FDA list were milk cartons and coffee filters.

The Chemistry of Dioxin: A Review

Dioxins are chemically known as polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD's). Often present with dioxins are the less toxic but more prevalent polychlorinated dibenzofuran. There are approximately 75 dioxins to be considered. The one that is most toxic to laboratory animals and presumably the most hazardous to humans is usually referred as 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). The most prevalent furan formed in pulp bleaching is 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzofuran (TCDF). TCDF is one-tenth as toxic as TCDD.

Research has shown that dioxin is formed as a result of the combustion of organic materials and in certain chemical reactions involving chlorinated compounds such as the application of elemental chlorine during the pulp bleaching process. When chlorine combines with the many organic molecules in wood, the organochlorines including dioxins are formed. Organically-bound chlorine is almost unknown in nature, but organochlorines produced in manufacturing process live long in the environment.

The bulk of the evidence points to primary formation of PCDD from a precursor DBD (dibenzo-p-dioxin) in a reaction with chlorine during the C-stage of bleaching the wood pulp. Chlorine has been used by the pulp and paper industry for many years to whiten, dissolve impurities and remove odors from paper. About 15 to 20% of all chlorine produced in the U.S. is used to manufacture pulp used in papermaking facilities.

Quantities of dioxin present in pulp and in paper exist in trace amounts. The capability to determine these minute amounts has only occurred through recent advances in analytical chemistry. Amounts of dioxin that have been detected are in the parts per trillion (ppt) range.

It is important to note that concentrations found in bleached pulp are not the same as the paper products made from those pulps. Levels found in finished products are generally lower than those found in the pulp of the product.

Data on bleached pulp-based coffee filters showed concentrations ranging from non-detect at 1.0 ppt to a maximum of 6.6 ppt. It may be helpful to examine what these trace amounts mean in comparative terms. On part per trillion (1/1,000,000,000,000) is equivalent to one second in 32,000 years.

For comparative information to other sources of environmental dioxin, the total generation of dioxin from the manufacturing of bleached pulp and paper products originally amounted to 2 lbs. 8 oz. or 3% of the estimated total U.S. releases of approximately 88 pounds/year to the environment according to an april 1990 API (American Paper Institute) Report. Contrast this number with 46 to 53 lbs. per year for municipal waste incinerators.

Three issues relating to dioxin are of concern--the health risk to humans dioxin in paper food contact materials, the presence of dioxin in paper mill effluent and exposures to dioxin of certain wildlife from paper mill sludges spread on agricultural and forest lands as a soil nutrient.

"What is the current status of health risks of dioxin in coffee filters?" is the question most asked by consumers.

According to the FDA, the minute levels of dioxin, which in addition has been significantly reduced in the last four years, do not pose a significant health risk to humans. FDA's upper bound risk estimate shows that based on coffee consumption of a 90th percentile coffee drinker, the increased risk of cancer is less than one in a million. The amount of dioxin consumed over a lifetime would theoretically generate no more than one excess incident of cancer in one million people.

From the start, the paper industry has been actively involved in voluntary programs to reduce dioxin in the manufacture of paper and has worked closely with the EPA, FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as well as state agencies. The industry has made a commitment that the dioxin level in all food contact paper and paperboard products will be 2 parts per trillion or less by 1992. In fact, it is projected that by the end of 1990 over 80% of all food contact paper and paperboard will meet the 2 ppt level. An industry survey of pulp used for coffee filters showed an even lower figure, close to only 1 ppt on average. To contrast that level with previous levels: at the time of the 104 Mill Study, some dioxin levels for pulp were as high as 100 ppt.

These lowered levels of dioxin have come about through voluntary industry changes in the bleaching of paper. Several highly effective methods for bleaching paper, particularly paper in contact with food, have been developed and are replacing current bleaching methods using predominantly elemental chlorine resulting in significant reductions in dioxin in paper.

No two mills bleach pulp exactly the same. However many mills are implementing a variety of new methods to reduce pulp dioxin levels. Dioxin formation appears to occur mainly in the first bleaching or C-stage where elemental chlorine reacts with precursers in the pulp. In this bleaching stage many mills have replaced from 30-50% of the elemental chlorine with chlorine dioxide which does not produce dioxins.

In addition, two steps have been added before this bleaching stage to additionally reduce dioxin formation. Precursers of dioxin react with chlorine to give dioxin. It has been found that some defoamers used to minimize foam in the washing of the pulp are contaminated with dioxin precursers. Most mills are making sure that these defoamers have been replaced with defoamers that are not contaminated with dioxin precursers. Dioxin levels have also been lowered in the products of many mills by improving the washing of unbleached pulp to rid it of any dioxin precursers.

Another way to reduce the use of chlorine in the first stage bleaching is to add hydrogen peroxide in subsequent washing and bleaching stage.

A highly effective method for minimizing dioxin formation in coffee filter paper is the use of oxygen delignification. In the pulping process, wood chips are "cooked" in a digester to separate the cellulose fiber from lignin. About 85% of lignin which gives the brown color to paper is removed. However, the residual lignin must be removed by bleaching if white paper is needed.

In oxygen delignification, oxygen gas is added to the unbleached pulp to dissolve 5-10% of the remaining lignin. By using oxygen delignification, far less chlorine is needed during the bleaching process.

In addition there is the blended, off-white, thermomechanical pulp coffee filters BCTMP (Bleached Chemical Thermo-Mechanical Pulp) which are made by mechanically grinding wood and whitening it with hydrogen peroxide.

The introduction of these new processing methods have allowed mills to attain no-detect levels of dioxin.

Unbleached filters are another way of dealing with the dioxin issue as they do not undergo a bleaching process. This is an approach taken by some coffee filter manufacturers both in the U.S. and in Europe. Unbleached or natural coffee filters are made from wood pulp that has been cooked in a digester to separate the lignin and washed to remove the lignin. (About 85% of lignin is removed.) Unbleached filters are considered the most "environmentally friendly" because no chlorine or other dioxin-forming chemicals are used in its processing. The unbleached filter paper has been Europe's choice to eliminate dioxins caused by bleaching paper. These filters are made from totally unbleached fiber. There have been some expressions of concern but no definitive evidence that unbleached filters affect coffee flavor.

After the initial association of dioxin with coffee filter paper, many changes began in the coffee industry. It was important to immediately inform the public that dioxin in coffee filters did not pose a significant health risk to the coffee-drinking consumer.

And it was important to respond to consumer concern about dioxin in filters. Consumer awareness of dioxin has had its effect on the coffee filter marketplace. Many new "environmentally-friendly" filter products have been demanded by consumers and been marketed by the industry. And, promotional and informational approaches have been developed to inform an increasingly environmentally-conscious public about current coffee filter product lines.

Filter Product Update

Altrafilters Inc.--Lincoln Park, NJ and Los Angeles, CA

Altrafilters sell ADC filters to all major coffee roasters in the U.S. According to a company spokesperson, Altrafilters is the largest supplier in the institutional marketplace. Responding to consumer concern about dioxin in the environment and in coffee filter paper, Altrafilters brought its oxygen-whitened filter to the institutional marketplace in September 1989. Company literature discusses the issue of whether bleaching necessarily removes impurities in the wood pulp that are not removed in unbleached filters.

A.V. Olsson Trading Company--Scarsdale, NY

This company imports the "If You Care" brand of "environmentally-friendly" ADC 100% unbleached coffee filters from Sweden for distribution in the U.S. The product is marketed as having a number 1 priority of eliminating all bleaching. Olsson is the exclusive U.S. representative for various Scandinavian manufacturers of food products. It sells its products to distributors and chain-store warehouses who supply supermarkets and specialty food stores throughout the U.S.

Bollore Technologies--France & Dayville, Connecticut

Bollore supplies predominantly tea bag paper internationally. Although its executive offices and paper mill are based in France, 90% of its paper products are exported worldwide with close to one-third shipped to North America. Bolmet Incorporated, the company's North American subsidiary, located in Dayville, Connecticut has been in the tea bag paper marketplace for over 10 years. Bollore supplies some of the largest tea packers in the U.S. according to a company spokesperson. After extensive research and testing to develop environmentally-responsive tea bag paper, the company developed its oxygen-bleached tea bag paper. In this oxygen cleansing method, there are no chlorine or chlorine compounds used according to a company spokesperson.

The company also produces unbleached tea bag paper material. The products were introduced into the U.S. marketplace in late 1989. The majority of sales activity in the U.S. has thus far focused on the oxygen-bleached products. Unbleached materials appear to have greater consumer appeal in Germany than in the U.S. at this time.

Cadillac Coffee--Detroit, MI

This family-owned business tied to the Dine-Mor association of independent roasters nationwide is a coffee roaster predominantly serving the foodservice area. All of its filters are oxygen-whitened. The company services mainly the tri-state Michigan, Indiana and Ohio area.

Celestial Seasonings--Boulder, CO

The tea bag paper used by Celestial Seasonings is made of 100% oxygen-bleached paper. All products were converted to the oxygen-bleached paper in mid-1989. The product is considerably more expensive than chlorine bleached paper, but the company has not passed this along to the consumer. Celestial is currently involved in in-house testing on 100% unbleached tea bag paper to determine if there is a perceived difference in flavor between and unbleached papers.

According to Angie Dorsey of Celestial Seasonings, the company has a strong commitment to the environment in the packaging as well as production of its tea bags. Efforts have been made not to use chlorine bleached paper in packaging as well as in tea bags. In addition, there has been an effort to reduce the amount of packaging that is used at all. "Less packaging means reduced demands on the environment to make it and to dispose of it," Dorsey said. "In terms of packaging, in 1990 the box was flagged to the consumer to show that oxygen-bleached paper was being used. Other packaging issues include the use of unbleached liners in the box and the elimination of strings, tags, staples and foil envelopes. Two million pounds of packaging is saved through the use of these methods," Dorsey said.

Crompton-Bury, Lancashire UK & Marietta, GA

Crompton produces paper for tea bags and immersible coffee bags but does not provide paper for conical shaped automatic drip coffee filters. 50% of its output is exported to the U.S., their second largest export market. Their tea bag paper is composed of manila fiber (which does not require bleaching), woodpulp and heatsealing fibers in heatseal grades. The manila fiber is not bleached. The wood pulp for regular grades is bleached by their wood pulp suppliers using the oxygen-bleaching process or other bleaching processes that do not use elemental chlorine. They have also introduced a grade which uses wood pulps bleached by the peroxide process in which no chlorine compounds are used.

In addition, the company produces teabag paper grades where the wood pulp is unbleached. The company changed its wood pulp suppliers in 1988 to those using the oxygen-bleached process. In 1989, they introduced peroxide bleached wood pulp. A company spokesperson commented that there are consumers in certain countries that prefer the browner color of the unbleached papers.

Green Mountain Coffee Roaster--Waterbury, VT

Earth-Friendly [TM] filters are manufactures by Green Mountain Filters, a subsidiary of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. According to the company, the new filters, introduced on Earth Day April 22, 1990, use an oxygen-cleansing method followed by chlorine dioxide replacing elemental chlorine. According to Tom Rutz, product manager, the company is very pleased with the reception of the product in the marketplace. National distribution is in progress to supermarkets and specialty stores.

Melitta North America--Cherry Hill, NJ

Melitta markets two filter products for its drip coffee makers--its new Natural Brown [TM] unbleached coffee filters and its classic "oxygen-cleansed" white filters. Natural Brown [TM] was introduced in July 1989, promoted by the company as the first branded brown coffee filters introduced nationally. According to the company, the produce is doing very well on the West Coast in all major accounts including supermarkets, gourmet and specialty stores. East Coast activity started slowly because of slotting allowance requirements but distribution and sales are growing especially in supermarkets where there is increasing consumer demand. The company also features another product line of classic white filters using the "oxygen-cleansed process." Melitta was the first to introduce unbleached filters into the Swedish marketplace in 1988 and in West Germany, Switzerland and other Scandinavian countries in the Spring of 1989. Company sources say that the marketing of the unbleached filters are done for environmental reasons only and stresses the importance of accurate product descriptions and promotion within the industry so as not to obscure the efforts being made in behalf of the environment.

Mr. Coffee--Bedford Heights, OH

The company has introduced a new, white ADC coffee filter processed without the use of elemental chlorine. It is made of a blend of two kinds of wood pulps--a combination of oxygen cleansed and chlorine dioxide processed and BCTMP whitened with hydrogen peroxide. All filters are made of the new material and are doing well in national distribution in supermarkets, mass merchandisers and drug stores.

Rockline--Sheboygan, WI

The Rockline company has done extensive analytic research in dioxin in coffee filters as well as research on extractibles in natural and bleached coffee filters. The thinking of president Randy Rudolf is that all major pulp mills supplying the coffee filter paper grades have drastically reduced the amount of chlorine used in bleaching pulps and produce industry-safe grades. Rockline markets three product lines. Brew Rite R is a bleached coffee filter that is oxygen whitened and has been for many years, according to Rudolf. Brew Rite R is merchandised in polybags to mass merchandisers. Star brand coffee filters use the same bleaching process but are boxed and marketed to an upscale consumer. Natural Brew R brand is the company's new unbleached filter introduced in 1989.

Rudolf points out that, in fact, unbleached filters are more beneficial to the environment that bleached products for reasons in addition to dioxin content.

* About 10% less timber is used to produce one ton of unbleached pulp.

* It takes 20% less energy to produce unbleached pulp.

* Half as much fresh water is required.

* There is half as much waste water.

Schoeller & Hoesch--Germany & Summerhill, SC

The company and paper mill are located in Gernsbach, Germany with a converting facility and sales offices in Summerville, South Carolina. S. & H. is a paper manufacturer of six different kinds of papers ranging from filter paper to electrolytic condenser paper. In the area of filter paper, the company does more tea bag paper than coffee filter paper in the 100% unbleached tea bag paper material in heatsealable and nonheat sealable grades. Materials are sold to clients by the pound, rolls or reels.

Another company that markets a wide range of environmentally-responsive products including coffee filters is Ashdun Industries in Englewood, NJ. A new player in the environmental product market-place started in 1989, Ashdun was founded to bring more "environmentally-friendly" products to the mass market. It markets a line of environmentally-responsive coffee filters that is bleached without the use of elemental chlorine. Currently the company markets 40 products most of which are filters, paper towels, tissue, toilet tissues and napkins. The company is consinuously adding new products such as puffs as well as household cleaning products. The paper products utilize an alternative bleaching method along the oxygen-bleaching line of processing. Ashdun markets its products nationwide to over 4,000 supermarkets under products names: C.A.R.E. (Consumer Action to Restore the Environment), Environocare, Enviroquest, Aware, Project Green.

Manufacturing of Other Specialty Filter Products

The most common filters used by the public are the ones commonly referred to as basket-type products mentioned above. There is, however, a significant and growing portion of the coffee market that is involved in the distribution of prepackaged filter pouch products made from long fiber filter papers.

The development of the prepackaged filter pouch product began about 25 years ago. At this time Aldine Technologies Incorporated, the oldest specialty filter producer, introduced the filter pouch for airline brewing machines. This technology innovation led to a range of institutional and retail products, the most recent being the new Maxwell House filter pak coffee pouches.

Aldine is one of three U.S. manufacturers of long fiber filter paper for the coffee market. There are two other manufacturers of specialty coffee paper in the U.S. in addition to Aldine--C.H. Dexter Div. and Kimberly Clark. Aldine is a leading full line producer of environmentally-responsive grades which cover the heatsealable and nonheatsealable range of filter papers.

It is likely that all manufacturers will have made the manufacturing processing changes required to produce the ER grades by 1992.

What is happening at retail?

According to a June 1990 article in Supermarket News, responses to the range of "environmentally-friendly" coffee filters have "been perking." It was also noted that these new product introductions are occurring at a time when coffee filters are on the rise in the marketplace. According to the latest figures from Nielson Marketing Research in Northbrook, IL, dollar sales for the 52 week period prior to 6/16/90 were $121.2 million with a change of 14.2% over the previous year. Unit sales for the same period were 109.8 million units or 6.1% increase over last year's figures.

Retailers polled by the publication said the products are finding a "solid niche on store shelves." Major retailers were polled including Kroger division in Houston, TX; Scott Food Stores in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Meljer of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Lakeshore Food Corp., Michigan City, Indiana; Albertson's in Brea, California; Waldbaum's in Central Islip, NY and Shaw's Supermarkets in East Bridgewater, MA.

Retailers indicated increased customer demand for the new "environmentally-friendly" filter products. Retailers felt that customer response was positive and that the new products would sell. And if they worked as well as the bleached products customers would switch over to the "environmentally-friendly" new products. Retailers indicated that their companies were very environmentally-oriented and were interested in carrying new "environmentally-friendly" products. Several said it was almost necessary for a retailer to carry the new items, and it is certainly in the retailers' best interest to stock them.

At an Albertson's distribution center in California, the buyer said he had carried them for at least a year and stocks at least one of each type of filter. He described their movement as average. In an average week, Albertson's moves 11,000 pieces of the standard filters compared with about 800 of the "environmentally-friendly" products. He said the prices are a little cheaper than a nonenvironmentally-friendly competitor.

An update of Regulation

According to the settlement in the EPA court case, the environmental agency was to present a status report on assessments of dioxin in chlorine bleached wood pulp and to provide a plan of action to reduce dioxin contamination in the environment by April 1990. According to EPA's April 1990 report, three areas of dioxin in the environment are of greatest concern: sludge, waterways and food contact packaging.

As of April 1990, the EPA has begun to regulate mills to effect clean-up of waterways, striving to improve techniques used in bleaching to further lower dioxin emissions.

Food contact papers are under the FDA jurisdiction. The EPA has referred the handling of the issue of dioxin in food contact paper, and the FDA has informally accepted. According to an FDA spokesperson, dioxin levels in food contact papers are low but are feasible to reduce. The FDA is currently studying whether there is a need for regulations for dioxin in food contact papers as well as how such regulations should be set-up. The agency acknowledges the extensive efforts and results achieved by the paper industry in voluntarily reducing dioxin in food contact papers. Should a regulation be required, it is likely that it would take several years to process and implement such an FDA rule.

Liz Fader is a food/beverage and packaging writer with credits in such trade publications as Quick Frozen Foods Magazine, Beverage Retailer, Journal of Packaging Technology and diverse consumer publications.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:coffee filters
Author:Fader, Liz
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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