Health update: An introduction to hexane

February 28, 2012

Diet, Food, Health Concerns

The following is new information regarding the use of hexane in the food industry as an extraction solvent for soy products.

Food toxins 101: An introduction to hexane

At seven cents per pound, hexane, a simple hydrocarbon, is a by-product of every petroleum refinery on Earth and is currently the dominant extraction solvent for soy products, when soybeans are bathed in hexane as part of their processing for food.

Whether you are consuming Boca® Burgers, Clif® Bars, firm tofu, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, granola crumbs for texture or Silk Soymilk, hexane likely played a role in the extraction process. Hexane was formerly used as a cleaning agent for removing grease in the printing industry, as well as a solvent for rubber cement, but today, excess hexane is effectively being used to clean our food and is showing up in many so-called “natural” and even “made with organic” soy foods. (Hexane is prohibited in organic food processing.)

It is also used as a cleansing agent for shoe, furniture and textile manufacturing, as a working fluid in low-temperature thermometers and in laboratories, and to extract oil and grease from water and soil before determination by gravimetric analysis or gas chromatography.

Exposures of 800 ppm for 15 minutes can cause respiratory tract and eye problems. At higher exposure levels, workers can develop symptoms of nausea, vertigo and headaches. The acute toxicity of hexane is relatively low, although it is a mild anesthetic. Inhalation of high concentrations produces first a state of mild euphoria, followed by somnolence with headaches and nausea.

The health industry is starting to express outrage over the continued use of hexane in food. Many organizations and groups contend that the FDA does not require testing for hexane residues, that for the last 10 years the EPA has categorized hexane as an HAP (hazardous air pollutant), that hexane is a known neurotoxin, and that it is actually too efficient in that it dissolves and separates from the soy normally unsaponifiable materials, which we commonly refer to as nutrients.

The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Report refers to hexane as [the industry’s] dirty little secret that needs to be exposed.


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Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 28, Number  4, Aug/Sept 2009.

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