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The Hidden Health Risks of Tea Bags

Although tea appears to have a variety of health benefits, the same can’t be said for some of the tea bags used to hold it. Here’s what you need to know about the health risks of tea bags made of paper.

If you enjoy sipping a hot cup of tea, you’re not alone. Tea has a long history of being enjoyed for its pleasing taste and aroma. Not only is tea a tasty drink to enjoy, the health benefits are being increasingly recognized. The catechin polyphenols found in green and white teas, are being studied for their potential to not only reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, but also as a metabolism booster. While a cup of black, white, or green tea provides a healthy alternative to soft drinks, there may be good reason to brew your next cup of tea from loose leaf tea leaves rather than tea bags. Why? It appears that the paper used in the manufacture of commercial tea bags may be a source of a cancer causing chemical known as epichlorohydrin.

The Potential Toxicity of Tea Bags

Many people choose to brew their own tea from loose leaf tea leaves simply because it produces a better tasting cup of tea. The tea leaves packed into commercial tea bags are usually tea fragments and dustings of inferior quality and produce a cup of tea that lacks the full-bodied taste of tea produced from loose leaves. Not only is the taste compromised when tea bags are used, but the health benefits may be reduced by the toxicity of the bag itself.

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.

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.

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  1. Great article that made me so glad I don’t like tea or coffee!

  2. very informative and interesting. i had no idea that manufacturers were putting harmful chemicals in their tea bags that can trigger off cancer. it shows that once the public get wise, so many companies panic when its brought to their attention and quickly pack-up or change. sadly, only when pointed out. thanks for this.

  3. My ex-wife is going to be very upset about this. She loves teabags.

  4. This is interesting but I wish there were another way besides calling and asking. I will never do that.

  5. so sad. so much misinformation.

  6. Prior to reading this article, I had emailed Bigelow Tea to inquire about epichlorohydrin in their teabags. Their response, from October 12, 2009, stated that their paper manufacturer uses “a polymide epichlorohydrin based resin”. So contrary to what is stated in this article, the Bigelow Tea Company does indeed use epichlorohydrin.

  7. A response from Tetley:

    Thank you for your e-mail dated 27th November 2010, regarding Tetley Tea Bag, and we give below our comments.

    World over, all the teabag filter paper manufacturers uses an additive during manufacture to make paper resistant to water (wet strength). One of the approved additives is Epiresin, which is a resin made from epichlorhydrin. This additive is approved for use in tea and coffee filter papers by US, European and Japanese regulations. This additive is hot water insoluble and remains with the filter paper after brewing and do not form part of the brew. We routinely analyze our paper for chemical residues and no residue of epichlorhydrin is reported.

    Please note that the additive used is Epichlorhydrin resin (Epi-resin) and not epichlorhydrin, as both these are different chemicals. Commercial Epi-resins used in teabag paper industries is free from epichlorhydrin. For information, epichlorhydrin does not provide wet strength to filter papers and hence not used.

    As can be seen, teabags used by TATA Global Beverages Limited are absolutely safe and the Company takes care to provide its consumers safe products for consumption.

    We would like to assure that we have very strict Quality Control, Health and Safety measures in place to ensure that our products conform to the laid down standards and are defect free.

    The Company thanks you for bringing the matter to our notice and we appreciate the concern shown.

    Consumer Services.
    +1800 345 1720

  8. You asked if our teabags contain epichlorohydrin.

    Our papers are not coated with epichlorohydrin and do not contain any free epichlorohydrin in the product supplied.

    However, according to our paper manufacturer, there is a polyamide epichlorohydrin based resin, used as a wet strength agent. Tea filter papers need to have strength in water otherwise the tea bag will break when put in water. To achieve the required wet strength, a small amount of so named wet strength agent is necessary to add during the production process of the tea filter papers. This wet strength agent is a polyamide epichlorohydrin based resin, which cross links and bonds to the paper during manufacture and is fully in compliance with the legal requirements for a raw material used for materials and articles to come in contact with food.

    We hope this information is helpful to you.

    Bigelow Consumer Service

  9. Thanks for providing the facts about tea bags so nicely.

  10. You asked if our teabag paper contains epichlorohydrin.

    Epichlorohydrin is used as one of the component raw materials in the manufacture of the wet strength agent and it is bound into the wet strength agent molecule. Such wet strength materials are used as standard practice throughout the paper industry, in use with teabag paper, as well as with coffee filters.

    • Epichlorohydrin itself cannot be extracted out of the molecule in hot water as it is a bound-in part of the wet strength agent.

    • There is a very significant difference chemically between the substance epichlorohydrin itself and a compound made using epichlorohydrin as one of the starting raw materials

    The FDA allowable amount for Epichlorohydrin in all wet strength applications, pertaining to filtration paper is 20ppm; the wet strength agent used in the manufacturing of our paper, contains less than 1ppm.

    In the finished product, which is the actual teabag paper containing our teas, our paper supplier confirms that there is no presence or trace of epichlorohydrin.

    We hope this information is helpful in responding to your inquiry.

    Cordially,
    Consumer Service Supervisor

  11. Thanks for the article> I am leaving teabags tea straightaway.

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