China single-handedly burns roughly half of the world’s coal. Because coal is extracted from the ground, burning it releases not only plenty of CO2, but also toxic heavy metals like mercury and lead. These substances can disperse through the air and eventually settle into soil, plants and the ocean. As China’s growing economy equates to larger energy demands, coal is being burned at an unprecedented rate, leading to a virtual deluge of lead contamination in the environment. Worse still, lead accumulates in the leaves of plants as they age the same way mercury levels increase as a fish ages.
Tea, in particular, is raising concern because of how enormously popular it is. China is a major distributor of the beverage, and with the expansive coal burning, lead contamination in tea leaves is a very real problem. The good news is that not all varieties contain the same amount of lead. If you aren’t pregnant, you can safely drink about as much green tea as you’d like. Black tea on the other hand becomes iffy after 3 cups a day. Women who are pregnant definitely need to exercise some caution, as the lead content could affect the developing baby. They shouldn’t drink more than a cup of green tea a day if it’s from China, 4 if it’s from Japan and should stay away from black tea altogether. For children, green tea is fairly safe with lead content, but due to caffeine, kids shouldn’t have more than 4 cups a day. Lead and caffeine are both a concern in black tea, so when it comes to the little ones, one cup a day is the limit.
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