Built to inform

Sign up for the daily newsletters

No, Thank you

Canada's McGill University finds plastic traces in teabags

Teabags have been found to emit micro- and nano-plastics, underscoring the need for research into plastic's health impacts

Some teabags contain traces of plastic [representational].
Pixabay
Some teabags contain traces of plastic [representational].

New research published in the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science & Technology, suggests has provided insights on the experiment conducted by Canada's McGill University to gauge the safety of plastic teabags. 

Over time, plastic breaks down into tiny microplastics and even smaller nanoplastics, the latter being less than 100 nanometres (nm) in size – for scale, remember that a human hair has a diameter of about 75,000nm.

While scientists have previously detected microplastics in the environment, tap and bottled waters, and some foods, McGill’s professor of chemical engineering, Nathalie Tufenkji, and her colleagues wondered whether recently introduced plastic teabags could be releasing micro- and nano-plastics into beverages during brewing.

Consequently, a research programme was kicked off, funded by Canada Research Chairs Program, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation, and McGill University, according to Construction Week's sister title Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.

To conduct their analysis, the researchers purchased four different commercial teas packaged in plastic teabags. The researchers cut open the bags and removed the tea leaves so that they would not interfere with the analysis. Then, they heated the emptied teabags in water to simulate brewing tea.

Using electron microscopy, the team found that a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature released about 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water. These levels were thousands of times higher than those reported previously in other foods.

The team also explored the effects of the released particles on small aquatic organisms called Daphnia magna, or water fleas, which are model organisms often used in environmental studies. The researchers treated water fleas with various doses of the micro- and nanoplastics released from the teabags.

Although the animals survived, they did show some anatomical and behavioural abnormalities. The first author of the study, PhD student Laura Hernandez says more research is needed to determine if the plastics could have more subtle, or chronic effects on humans.

Most popular

Awards

Deadline approaches for CW Oman Awards 2020 in Muscat
You have until 20 January to submit your nominations for the ninth edition of the

Conferences

CW In Focus | Inside the Leaders in KSA Awards 2019 in Riyadh
Meet the winners in all 10 categories and learn more about Vision 2030 in this
CW In Focus | Leaders in Construction Summit UAE 2019
A roundup of Construction Week's annual summit that was held in Dubai this September

Latest Issue

Construction Week Middle East 11th Jan 2020
Jan 16, 2020