Sip at your own risk? Germany researchers claim bubble tea ‘bubbles’ may contain PCBs

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Daily Brew

Like bubble tea? German researchers believe those "bubbles" might be dangerous to your health.

Researchers from the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine have discovered that the tapioca pearls, or "bubbles," found in the bubble tea at a national German chain contain PCBs.

According to German newspaper Rheinische Post, officials are currently investigating whether the bubble tea violates the country's food and safety laws.

The German bubble tea store in question sources its tapioca pearls from Taiwan. There's presently no evidence that the same pearls are used in any of the bubble tea sold in Canada, the Toronto Star reports.

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PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, refers to any one, or any combination, of 209 specific bioaccumulative chemicals — they don't easily break down — that have been banned throughout North America since 1977 due to toxicity and environmental permanence. While low levels of exposure are not likely to cause health problems, Health Canada's PCB Fact Sheet warns that exposure at higher levels has been associated with skin problems, muscle spasms, chronic bronchitic, nervous system problems and increased risk of liver and kidney cancers.

This isn't the first time German officials have cautioned against the increasingly popular sweet drink. In August, Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment warned that the tapioca pearls, when sucked into the mouth with a straw "can penetrate into the respiratory tract" of a young drinker under the age of 5.

Bubble tea is so popular in Germany that McDonald's now serves the drink in all of its McCafe locations. And despite these health warnings from Germany, the bubble tea trend is rapidly growing worldwide, with Britain being the latest nation to embrace the tea's "remarkable makeover," the Independent reports.

And while there's currently no need to fear your Canadian-made bubble tea, the PCBs story is one worth following. Maybe Canadian bubble tea shops should take a closer look at their tapioca balls, too — just in case.

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