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What is Melamine?

From Tiles to Dry-Erase Boards, Melamine is Used in a Variety of Items

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What is Melamine?

melamine molecule

The organic compound melamine was first synthesized by German chemist Justus Von Liebig in the 1830s, after combining parts of nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen.

While the compound was known to scientists for years, it wasn't widely used until a century later in the 1930s to make commercial plastics and laminates. Combined with formaldehyde, the material can be easily molded and incredibly strong. Melamine dish wear was popular in the 1940s and 1950s but gradually died out by the 1970s.

Today, in powder form, the compound is used in a variety of household products, ranging from dry-erase boards, floor tiles, and cement. The material is also used to make textiles flame resistant.

In 2007, material labeled wheat gluten and rice protein was actually melamine and sent by Chinese manufacturers to pet food companies around the world. This led to many pet illnesses and deaths and recalls of the products.

In 2008, it was discovered that melamine was improperly used to make baby formula appear more nutrient-rich. Because it is an organic compound, the material can look like a protein.

While Melamine is not toxic, it can cause kidney stones and renal failure in the human body with longer-term use. Chinese health officials also said that many of the symptoms in the infants showed up three to six months after ingesting the formula. As of October 2008, more than 50,000 people have fallen ill in China, and at least four infants have died.

Prior to the scandal, baby formula was not tested for melamine.

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