Researchers in Bangladesh have recently found an alarming level of microplastics in local sugar and tea bags that pose a potential threat to public health and food safety.
The amount of microplastics in sugar was so high that 10.2 tonnes of microplastic particles could enter the bodies of 165 million people in Bangladesh yearly on average.
A team of researchers from Jahangirnagar University (JU) conducted two separate studies after collecting available brand and non-brand sugars in the local market in Dhaka. The research paper was published in May in the leading science journal “Science of the Total Environment.”
Mostafizur Rahman, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at JU, led the two studies and shared his findings with Anadolu Agency.
Read more: Study finds single teabag contains nearly 13,000 microplastic particles
“A recent study found microplastics in human blood. Now we have found evidence of their presence in sugar,” he added.
Dhaka residents consume 10.9 tonnes of microplastics in tea every year
In the 6-month study, researchers collected sugar samples from different supermarkets in Dhaka. They found an average of 343 plastic particles per kilogram in five popular brands and two non-brand sugars. Most of the particles are smaller than 300 micrometres.
“We have also determined the sizes, chemical natures and shapes of these microplastics in sugar and tea bags. We conducted the study through a globally recognized standard method and lab. And our research found that 100% of the sugar samples carry microplastics at an alarming level.”
In response to a question on how the particles get into sugar, he replied that they do not have access to examine the manufacturing phases of sugar. But if the government supports it, they have the research capability to determine the facts, the teacher said.
“However, we are speculating that plastic nanoparticles may have entered the sugar during the processing or packaging phase. Bangladesh also imports raw sugar and local companies prepare those for the local market. So, these imported sugars could be among the samples we collected.”
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The JU Department of Environmental Sciences earlier found an alarming presence of microplastics in some other items like salt, marine and river water fishes.
“The ever-increasing use of polymers worldwide takes us to an alarming stage and there is no room for ignoring the issue as the microplastic pollution is becoming deadly,” Rahman underlined.
Meanwhile, the other study found microscopic plastic particles in five local brand tea bags.
“When we dip a tea bag into a water pot it releases microplastics. The tea bag releases the nanoparticles. Tea bag manufacturing companies claim that they use food polymer in making tea bags but, as far as we know, there is no acceptable or harmless food polymer.”
According to the study, a tea-leaf-filled tea bag contains 505 and an empty tea bag contains 477 microplastic particles.
Dhaka residents consume about 10.9 tonnes of microplastics every year by drinking tea from a tea bag, said the study.
Adverse effects on public health, food safety
“We have inadequate research globally to determine the adverse effects of microplastics on the human body. However, we have done research on animal models. We conducted research on animals, including quail birds, frogs, fish and others, and got alarming results.
“We see severe impacts of microplastics in animals, including growth dysfunction, stress, and change in blood pressure. We are also working to figure out details of microplastics’ effects on the human body as some studies already conducted suggest that microplastics affect human health,” Rahman added.
“Microplastic itself is a treacherous matter as it also carries other particles and supports pollutants and works as a secondary vector that can potentially damage human organs,” the scientist warned.
“Following the research, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution invited me to participate in its meeting on food security. The regulatory body assured us of taking up the issue as it was not aware of such contamination in sugar,” he added.
“People are experiencing an increasing number of diseases nowadays which are directly linked to food contamination. Some other research studies have already found heavy metals in agricultural goods and animal feed apart from the microplastics.”
The use of plastic and subsequent contamination of food items have already crossed the red line. It is the last-minute call for the authorities concerned to take immediate action, he added.