Some premium tea bags leach billions of microplastics per cup: study

Researcher Nathalie Tufenkji says she now avoids tea bags containing plastics

A McGill University professor says tea lovers may be swallowing billions of tiny plastic particles along with their favourite brew.

Nathalie Tufenkji published a study Wednesday in the U.S. journal Environmental Science & Technology that examined the amount of microplastics and nanoplastics released when four unnamed brands of tea bags were steeped in hot water.

Researchers at the Montreal university focused their analysis on premium brands that come in voluminous, silk-like bags, instead of the more common paper variety.

“We were expecting to see some particles — obviously, just naturally from putting this material in hot water — but we were shocked when we saw that it’s actually releasing billions of particles from a single tea bag,” Tufenkji said Wednesday.

After emptying the bags of tea leaves, researchers submerged the bags in “ultra pure” water heated to 95 degrees Celcius for five minutes. When they analyzed a sample of the water, they found that a single plastic tea bag released approximately 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics into a single cup.

Tufenkji said that’s far higher than what other studies have found in other foods, for instance table salt, a kitchen staple that’s been reported as containing plastic. While 16 micrograms of microplastic was recorded in one cup of tea, table salt has been found to contain 0.005 micrograms per gram.

Tufenkji said the health risk of ingesting microplastics and nanoplastics is unknown and that her study only measured how much plastic was released by plastic tea bags.

She said a “very preliminary” toxicity study exposed water fleas to the steeping water, and researchers noted the tiny invertebrates behaved differently and appeared to have an altered body shape.

READ MORE: Humans unknowingly eat 100,000 particles of plastic per year, says new UVic study

As for human consumption, she stressed that there is no evidence of toxicity.

“We don’t know if it is dangerous,” she said.

“There’s actually almost no studies on the toxicity of ingesting microplastics or nanoplastics so that’s something to be determined, but we do know (some tea bags are) releasing a lot of plastic into the actual tea.”

The study also found that far fewer particles were released when the tea bag was steeped at room temperature for five minutes.

But that’s not the norm when brewing tea, the study acknowledges, adding that tea drinkers often heat water above the measured temperature of 95 °C and that even “food grade” plastics may degrade or leach toxic substances when heated above 40 °C.

Tufenkji said she now avoids tea bags containing plastics, but largely because of her aversion to single-use plastics.

“I do drink loose-leaf tea or tea in a paper tea bag,” said Tufenkji.

“I still continue to enjoy tea, that’s for sure.”

— By Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Organic Matters tea recalled across B.C. due to Salmonella

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Unhealthy smell at Abbotsford elementary school to be subject of next school board meeting

Dec. 3 meeting will have report from district’s organizational health and safety department

Abbotsford Senior hosting Big Ticket tournament finals

Basketball tournament featuring 64 high school teams starts next week

Snow appears in forecast for next week in Fraser Valley

Extreme weather shelter in Hope could be open by Monday

Westbound vehicles gridlocked on Highway 1 from crash in Langley

Estimated wait time to get past 248th Street is over an hour from Bradner Road

Bunny ebola, toxic lakes and ‘abortion storm’ all revealed in little-known local publication

Abbotsford’s Animal Health Centre publishes revealing newsletter three times a year

Driver escaped uninjured as car burst into flames on Nordel Way

It happened at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in North Delta, just west of Scott Road

Distracted driving tickets not for ICBC revenue, B.C. minister says

Minister Mike Farnworth calls SenseBC analysis ‘nonsense’

CN Rail strike and lack of trucking alternatives stoke forest industry fears

Companies calling on the federal government to ‘do everything in its power’ to end the strike

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveils new Liberal cabinet

Pivotal role in his new cabinet for a minority-government era goes to Chrystia Freeland

B.C. mom, kids on bike turned away from Tim Hortons drive-thru

Car-free for years, Charity Millar ‘felt gross’ being denied service

B.C. woman puts call out for 10,000 personal, heartfelt Christmas cards for the homeless

Christmas Card Collective enters into third year of making spirits bright

No turn signals, double-parking among top concerns for B.C. drivers: poll

Two-thirds of B.C. drivers said that not using turn signals was their biggest pet peeve

Man accused in fatal Shuswap church shooting also charged with arson

Parmenter family home badly damaged by fire a month before killing

Most Read