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Some Tea Bags Contain Plastic? Who knew!

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DATA DRIVEN VIEWPOINT:  Time to switch to loose tea?  I accidentally came across this snippet of an article in Wikipedia explaining how some tea bags use plastic in the their manufacture.  I have been trying to get away from plastics, especially in hot food and drink applications (anyone know where I can find an all steel automatic coffee maker?)  Below is the article and some information about PVC and PP, the two plastics mentioned in this Wikipedia entry.

From Wikipedia:


Main article: Filter paper

Three different teas in tea bags

Tea bag paper is related to paper found in milk and coffee filters and is a blend of wood and vegetable fibers. The vegetable fiber isbleached pulp abaca hemp, a small plantation tree grown for its fiber, mostly in the Philippines and Colombia. Heat-sealed tea bag paper usually has a heat-sealable thermoplastic such as PVC or polypropylene as a component fiber on the inner tea bag surface.


How can PVC affect my health?

Exposure to PVC often includes exposure to phthalates, which are used to soften PVC and may have adverse health effects.
Because of PVC’s heavy chlorine content, dioxins are released during the manufacturing, burning, or landfilling of PVC. Exposure to dioxins can cause reproductive, developmental, and other health problems, and at least one dioxin is classified as a carcinogen.
Dioxins, phthalates, and BPA are suspected to be endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that may interfere with the production or activity of hormones in the human endocrine system.


Health Risks of PVC Plastic
PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout it’s entire life cycle, during production, in our homes, and in the trash. At each stage it releases poisonous chemicals such as mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems. Workers at PVC plants may face life-long health risks from exposure to PVC and other hazardous chemicals used to make PVC. Babies and young children are especially vulnerable to these toxins and exposure greatly increases the following health risks:
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Reproductive and developmental problems
  • Allergies in children
  • Brain cancer
  • Leukemia or cancer of the blood.
  • Scleroderma or hardening of connective tissue throughout the body
  • Cholangiocarcinoma – a malignant tumor near the gall bladder and liver
  • Angiosarcoma – a malignant tumor arising from a blood vessel
  • Lymphomas or cancer of the lymph system
  • Liver cirrohosis
Disposing of PVC plastics is an environmental nightmare.

What is polypropylene (PP)?

Polypropylene (PP) is known for its high melting point, which makes it ideal for holding hot liquids that cool in the bottles (for example, ketchup and syrup). It can be manufactured to be flexible or rigid. PP is used to make containers for yogurt, margarine, takeout meals, and deli foods. It is also use for medicine bottles, bottle caps, and some household items. It is identified as number 5.

2.6 Observations in man

Skerfving et al. (19) briefly stated in their case report on polyethylene fume asthma that they have also seen a case of bronchospasm caused by polypropylene fumes; but the patient had a pre–existing bronchospasmic disease.  An asthma case in the production of polypropylene bags has been reported (16).

The exposure levels of the degradation products were not measured. The patient reacted in the challenge test where polypropylene was heated at 250ºC. No exposure data was given. When the patient was exposed to formaldehyde, no bronchospasmic reaction was elicited.  Epidemiological studies of polypropylene production workers and carpet manufacturing employees who used polypropylene showed a significant excess of colorectal cancer (1, 2, 20-22). These studies were based on clusters of colorectal cancer. In one study, 5 of the 7 cases were diagnosed within a 5–month period and in the other study 5 cases were diagnosed within an 18–month period. The exposure data were very poor in these studies, and it is not even possible to state if there had been any significant exposure to the thermal degradation products of polypropylene. Recent updates of these two original study populations have found no continuation of the excess of colorectal cancer, thereby indicating the chance nature of the clusters (9, 10, 14, 15). Other investigations of polypropylene production workers in Canada (18), Germany (12), Australia (3, 6) and the United Kingdom (4) found no link with colorectal cancer. Lagast et al. (13) pooled the results of the above studies and calculated an aggregate number of 20 observed cases and of 14.65 expected cases. The difference is not statistically significant.  As a whole, the combined weight of epidemiological evidence does not support an association between the work at polypropylene production and colorectal cancer.


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