red melamine plateJust how harmful is melamine, an industrial chemical made of coal that’s processed into plastic, fertilizer, industrial coatings, veneers and….tableware? Let’s count the ways:

  1.  In 1999 The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded there was sufficient evidence to show that melamine can act as a carcinogen in animals.
  2.  In 2007 after numerous American pets died, 60 million packages of pet food imported from China were recalled. The poisoning agent turned out to be melamine. Ground up and used as a cheap filler to imitate protein, melamine was added to the pet food to make it seem healthier than it was and to fatten manufacturer’s profits.
  3.  In 2008 Six babies died in China and 300,000 were badly sickened, many with kidney stones, after drinking milk heavily adulterated with melamine. Again the powdered melamine had been added to the milk to falsely boost its protein content and to line numerous manufacturer’s pockets with bigger profits. Given China’s poor record of releasing negative national news, it’s assumed the baby deaths and illnesses were under reported. Two of the guilty food executives were executed.
  4.  In 2011 those executions didn’t stop still MORE Chinese food manufacturers from trying to pull the same stunt when the government confiscated 26 TONS of melamine-contaminated powdered milk that was about to be churned into ice cream. In the absence of any organized (or even disorganized) food industry regulations in China, greedy food manufacturers gambled they wouldn’t be caught  — and lost.
  5.  In November 2012 unidentified men murdered the Chinese dairy owner who had first warned authorities in 2006 that neighboring dairies were adding dangerous amounts of chemicals to their milk. (Authorities initially ignored his warnings and murky shadows continue to darken the Chinese melamine world).
  6. Which brings us to January 21, 2013.  Citing a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the LA Times reported that serving hot food on melamine tableware could increase our exposure to melamine. Researchers in Taiwan had served test participants hot soup in both melamine and ceramic bowls. After participants ate the soup out of melamine bowls, their melamine levels peaked at about 8 parts per billion.  Those who later ate out of ceramic bowls had an average of less than 2 parts per billion but the researchers suggested those 2 parts were probably left over from their earlier melamine bowl sampling.

Prior to this the FDA had already stated that the amount of melamine leeching out of plastic dinnerware increased when foods on that dinnerware were heated to temps over 160 degrees. (Soup boils at 212 F degrees).  But they only warned consumers not to heat any food on melamine plates in ovens and microwaves. They had apparently not considered that leeching would ALSO take place when ALREADY heated foods were placed on room-temperature melamine plates and steaming hot drinks were poured into melamine cups. 

Though small, the Taiwan study showed that some melamine will in fact migrate from plates into our bodies. It may not be a very large amount but over time the effect would certainly be accumulative. So, like any toxin, why even swallow a spec of the stuff?

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