When we think of tea we think of something healthy and natural. However, from last weeks article we learned that it ain’t always so. Have you ever thought about what the actual tea bag that holds the tea is made of? Probably not, but after reading this article I think you just might.
Most often tea bags are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and food grade nylon. These substances are considered “two of the safest plastics on the scale of harmful leaching potential” But, what I am wondering about is what happens to these plastics when put in boiling water and left to steep for a couple of minutes?
Both of the above plastics have a very high melting point, meaning that they will not brake down in boiling water. However, there is another temperature point for plastics that is called “glass transition” temperature (Tg), which we should pay attention to, and this is much lower than the melting point. It means that even though the PET plastic will not melt in boiling water, it will start to dissolve on a molecular level, and could leach out right into your tea cup.
“If the question is, ‘As the polymer goes through that transition state, is it easier for something to leach out?’, the answer is yes,” said Dr. Ray Fernando, professor and director of polymers and coatings at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
The big tea companies, such as Lipton, claim that it is safe to use these plastics in tea. But what about this study that showed that mineral water in a PET bottles “demonstrate a widespread contamination of mineral water with xenoestrogens that partly originates from compounds leaching from the plastic packaging material… Overall, the results indicate that a broader range of foodstuff may be contaminated with endocrine disruptors when packed in plastics.“ Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic and interfere with our hormonal (endocrine) system, which can cause all sorts of problems within our bodies. And that is just from the PET bottle being in contact with the mineral water. What I want to know is, what happens when you put it in boiling water?!
Epichlorohydrin is another substance commonly used to treat tea bags, which makes the bags stronger and keeps them from breaking. According to Wikipedia ” In contact with water, epichlorohydrin (a highly reactive compound) hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD, a carcinogen found in food.”
The Environmental Protection Agency says drinking water with high levels of epichlorohydrin, over a long period of time, could cause stomach problems and an increased risk of cancer. For perspective: The E.P.A. allows up to 20 parts per million in drinking water, and epichlorohydrin- containing bags may include 50 parts per billion. 
So, with this knowledge and still wanting to drink tea, what can we do? Inform yourself about the teas that you are already using and figure out what the bag is made of, and if the tea has been known to contain pesticides. Check out this article for more information. Dr.Mercola recommends us to “purchasing tea from manufacturers who can certify that their tea bags do not contain epichlorophydrin, and avoid plastic tea bags. Your best option is to opt for loose tea…When selecting tea of any kind, it should preferably be organic (to avoid pesticides) and grown in a pristine environment (tea is known to accumulate fluoride, heavy metals and other toxins from soil and water, so a clean growing environment is essential to producing a pure, high-quality tea).”
I wish you a great weekend with a nice cup of loose leaf organic tea! 😉