With recent pet food and baby formula scandals in the news, you may be wondering: what is melamine? This synthetic compound has been used in construction materials, fertilizer, and even the creation of bowls and plates.
What Is Melamine And Where Does It Come From?
First synthesized by German scientists in the 1830s, melamine is compound made of carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen. In the 1930s, melamine came into favor as an ingredient used to create a durable plastic. Combining melamine with formaldehyde under high heat results in a plastic that is strong, easily molded and fire resistant.
In the 1950s melamine plastic was used to create a very popular line of dinnerware known as "Melmac". Although melamine plastic dinnerware fell out of fashion in the 1970s, dishes made with melamine plastic are sold as collector's items today.
The material is used to create Formica countertops, dry erase boards and cleaning supplies. Foamed melamine plastic is used to create high volume filters and as a fire retardant construction material in airplanes and buses. A melamine derivative called sulfonated melamine formaldehyde can be added to concrete to improve the strength and life span of the material.
Recent Melamine Food Scandals
Since melamine has a high nitrogen content, it can make foods appear to have a higher protein content in some tests. Dishonest food producers in some countries (particularly China) have used melamine to supplement feedstock, pet food and even baby formula. Scientists have determined that melamine causes kidney stones and renal failure and can be fatal to animals and humans.
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