Many tea bags made of paper are manufactured with a chemical known as epichlorohydrin, a compound used in the manufacture of plastics and used as an insecticide. When this chemical comes into contact with water it forms a chemical called 3-MCPD, a known cancer causing agent. Not only is epichlorohydrin found in paper tea bags, it’s also used in the manufacture of paper coffee filters. While this chemical in and of itself is troubling, when it comes into contact with water as when steeping tea, it becomes of even greater concern because of the cancer causing 3-MCPD it produces.
Toxicity of Tea Bags: How to Avoid Epichlorohydrin
While not all tea bags made of paper contain epichlorohydrin, many of them do. The best way to find out if your particular brand of tea uses tea bags manufactured with epichlorohydrin is to call and ask. One tea company that states that they don’t is Bigelow Tea Company. Hopefully, in the future, other tea manufacturers will also eliminate this harmful chemical from their tea bags so that the health benefits of tea can be enjoyed without exposure to cancer causing chemicals. Until then, it may be best to enjoy tea in its loose leaf form.
Epichlorohydrin is a versatile precursor in the synthesis of many organic compounds. For example, it is converted to glycidyl nitrate, an energetic binder used in explosive and propellant compositions. The epichlorohydrin is reacted with an alkali nitrate, such as sodium nitrate, producing glycidyl nitrate and alkali chloride. It is used as a solvent for cellulose, resins, and paints, and it has found use as an insect fumigant.
Polymers made from epichlorohydrin, e.g., polyamide-epichlorohydrin resins, are used in paper reinforcement and, such as in the food industry to manufacture tea bags, coffee filters, and sausage/salami casings as well as with water purification.
An important biochemical application of epichlorohydrin is its use as crosslinking agent for the production of Sephadex size-exclusion chromatographic resins from dextrans.
Epichlorohydrin is classified by several international health research agencies and groups as a probable or likely human carcinogen in humans. Prolonged oral consumption of high levels of epichlorohydrin could result in stomach problems and an increased risk of cancer. Occupational exposure to epichlorohydrin via inhalation could result in lung irritation and an increased risk of lung cancer.
Hidden Cancer Risk of Tea Bags
Although tea itself is considered to be good for you, the tea bag it comes in may not be. Many tea drinkers are unaware that many paper tea bags are manufactured with a chemical called epichlorohydrin, which is used to strengthen the wet paper. This is a chemical that is also used in the manufacture of plastics and resins, and when it comes into contact with water, becomes a carcinogen. This cancer-causing substance is not only used in many tea bags, but also in some coffee filters. Not all tea bags have epichlorohydrin in them — certain brands of tea pride themselves on using all-natural, biodegradable materials in their tea bags, and do not contain the chemical.
For people who want to reap the health benefits of green tea but are wary of the potential health threat of epichlorohydrin used in tea bags, loose leaf tea may be the best way to go. Loose tea leaves are generally of better quality and more flavorful than tea bags, and will produce a better cup of tea. You can buy a small mesh strainer in the shape of a spoon that you can use to steep your tea, or use an Asian-style cup with a built-in strainer. Alternatively, make sure the tea company you are using does not use epichlorohydrin in their tea bags.
Green tea is not only a healthy alternative to sugary drinks, studies show that it may also decrease your risk for certain cancers. Studies among populations who regularly drink green tea indicate that the antioxidants in the tea may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. However, a chemical used in the manufacture of tea bags is a carcinogen, and may actually increase your risk of cancer.
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