Melamine is a synthetic polymer commonly used to make everyday items, including dishes, counter tops, eating utensils, laminates, flooring and even wall paneling. While it is not generally considered a hazardous material around the house, under certain conditions melamine has been known to cause health problems in pets and small children.
Melamine is an organic compound made primarily of synthetic polymers, including formaldehyde, and sometimes urea. The compound is heat and pressure-treated, creating a resin that can be shaped and molded for a variety of uses. Melamine has been used to make dinnerware and other household products for four decades. While it is in resin form, it's not considered dangerously toxic by the FDA.
Melamine is not microwave-safe, and can chip, break or crack if overheated. When heated at high temperatures, a melamine product can potentially release toxins into food.
While melamine is not considered very toxic for adults, it can combine with other chemical compounds to cause kidney stones and renal failure in small animals and infants. Additionally, most melamine resin dinnerware contains small amounts of formaldehyde, a potent carcinogen, although the general scientific consensus is undecided on whether this poses a potential safety hazard.
Melamine in Infant Food
Melamine caused a worldwide heath scare in 2007 and 2008, when trace amounts were found in pet food and Chinese infant formula. Because of the high nitrogen content of melamine, foods mixed with the compound appeared to have large amounts of protein, leading some unscrupulous manufacturers to include it in their products. The result was thousands of pet deaths across the U.S., as well as 54,000 infants in Asia getting sick with kidney and renal problems. The FDA states that the tainted infant formula was never marketed in the U.S.
In general, melamine products are safe when used correctly. Avoid putting melamine dishware in the microwave, and throw out any dishes or utensils that are cracked, scratched or broken. Safer alternatives to melamine dishware, such as glass or ceramics, are readily available almost anyplace dinnerware is sold.