By Healthy Child Staff
For weeks now China has been in the midst of a public health scandal due to the death of four and the hospitalization of thousands of babies fed infant formula laced with melamine. Since then, traces of melamine have been found in an increasing amount of products all over the world.
Melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, pesticides, fertilizers, and even commercial fish feed, has apparently been added to milk and baby formula products to falsely increase the apparent level of protein. Interestingly, melamine alone is of very low toxicity (comparable to table salt), but when it is combined with cyanuric acid, animal studies have suggested that kidney problems occur. This effect is known as synergistic toxicity. It is these two chemicals combined that cause health problems and that is what was ultimately discovered in the dog food debacle. Still, no one seems to be talking about the combo this time around other than the World Health Organization who has released a preliminary report offering safety guidelines for acceptable levels of the contaminants in food, but cautions that their assessment is preliminary and there is still more research needed.
The World Health Organization says that traces of melamine in food pose no harm as it’s quickly eliminated from the body without causing harm. The FDA agrees for the general population, but adds that no level of melamine is safe for infant formula.
This last bit makes one reconsider the safety of melamine dishware for kids. You know, all those hard plastic plates and cups with adorable pictures and patterns on them. They are often referred to as melamine, but are actually a polymer of melamine and formaldehyde. Two immediate thoughts arise:
- The FDA just publicly announced there is no safe level for melamine in infant formula, so it compels one to believe we shouldn’t be feeding babies using melamine dishware.
- The National Toxicology Program announced in June that more research was needed on melamine and a new public health recommendation needs to be developed. One concern they have is the synergistic toxicity of melamine and cyanuric acid, which we usually are not exposed to simultaneously, but we could easily be exposed to sequentially (e.g. drinking from a melamine cup and then swimming in a pool that uses cyanuric acid as a stabilizer and disinfectant). Formaldehyde is a potent carcinogen, so why are we making dishware for children using it?
A quick search reveals that melamine, just like other suspect plastics, leaches its constituents into food and beverages (especially those that are acidic or warm). Here are studies from 1986, 1990, 2005, and 2006. Each of the studies claims the leaching levels are “safe” levels, but historically “safe” levels drop over time and shouldn’t we be considering cumulative “safe” exposures from the wide variety of sources ubiquitous in every day life?
At Healthy Child, we simply and fundamentally believe it’s better to be safe than sorry – especially when the exposure is completely unnecessary. If you have melamine dishes for your kids, perhaps it’s time to retire them to the pretend kitchen play set, a decorative shelf on the wall, the craft supplies cupboard, the bath tub, or the sandbox. Opt for dishware that is made from glass, ceramic, bamboo, stainless steel, or safer plastics.