Tea

For many years, I have been a tea drinker. I admit that I use tea bags, which some tea fanciers would consider low-class. But I enjoy the rather ordinary Red Rose, and the fancier stuff comes in bags, too.

Now, in the latest thing to worry about, there’s word that tea bags are dumping nasty microscopic plastic in my innards

I’d rather think about the tea I like, not the bags.

There’s Earl Grey tea, so-called because Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s, received a gift in the 1850s of tea flavored with bergamot, the fruit of a small Italian citrus tree that blossoms in the winter.

A 2010 survey found that many people in England associate drinking Earl Grey tea with being "posh" or upper class. I must have good taste.

Then, there’s Twining’s Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling tea is grown near Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in India. It can be processed as black, green, white or oolong tea.

Don’t ask me how tea processors process tea. I’m sure it’s complicated. I favor Twining’s Darjeeling because it’s said that it was Twining’s tea that the colonial anti-tax troublemakers famously dumped into Boston harbor on Dec. 16, 1773.

It was all loose tea in those days. Tea bags were 150 years in the future. I don’t know how much tea was in a chest, but the three ships the Tea Party protesters raided were carrying 240 chests of black teas and 75 chests of green teas. That must have added up to quite a few cups.

I also have on hand green tea, oolong and English Breakfast. All of them are in the familiar little bags with the string and the tag.

Now comes a report from McGill University in Montreal that some tea companies are replacing traditional paper tea bags with plastic ones that release billions of microscopic-size plastic particles into a cup of tea.

These bits of plastic are thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Researchers using an electron microscope found that one plastic tea bag releases nearly 12 billion microplastic particles, and more than three billion of even smaller nanoplastic particles, in a tea drinker’s digestive organs.

Nobody knows exactly how much of a threat it is to human health to have these miniscule plastic crumbs dumped into our bodies.

Microplastics have been a concern in other areas for quite a while. The tiny particles showed up in cosmetics, replacing some natural ingredients, about 50 years ago.

As scientists began to learn about such things, there was a Microbeads-Free Water Act of 2015, signed by President Obama, banning microparticles in health and beauty products.

The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Service is involved in research on microplastics that originate from larger plastic debris in Earth’s waters that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces. That agency is watching a trash and garbage accumulation the size of Texas in the North Pacific Ocean, and another huge one in the Pacific off the coast of South America.

Those scientists worry about the potential threat to aquatic life. I have lots of sympathy for aquatic life, but I selfishly am more concerned about my own life.

While the government looks at tiny particles that can pass through water filtration systems and invade the oceans, I’m looking suspiciously at my mug with a tea bag in it and wondering if my internal organs are being coated with a mess of microscopic plastic particles.

Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.

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