Is Melamine Safe for Kids?

If you ever needed another reason to breastfeed, here it is. Four babies have died and thousands are ill after melamine was found in contaminated dairy products in Asia.

The industrial toxin, which is high in nitrogen, is added to milk when producers want to artificially boost protein content. According to the Associated Press, one in five national dairy companies tested positive for the chemical. The hygiene practices of dairy farmers dates back to 80’s standardization and this lack of updated regulation has allowed the antiquated technology to go largely unchecked.

After the pet-food scare with melamine it leaves one wondering what, if any, form of melamine is safe. I was recently given some kids’ bowls made from melamine. Are they at risk? Obviously the substance is solidified, but as we now know with regard to plastics, it is best to err on the side of caution.

Melamine flatware is usually created by combining the chemical with formaldehyde. Formaldehyde has been linked to asthma and cancer. In a piece for the Green Guide, Alexandra Zissu (author of The Organic Pregnancy – a great book I reviewed last year,) discusses the concern surrounding melamine and other durable plastics used in baby and toddler wares. In her article on plastics Zissu notes:

Aside from sippy cups, most kidware isn’t made of polycarbonate but of durable, colorful melamine. Melamine is a questionable choice for food because it’s made with formaldehyde, which has been linked to allergies, asthma and cancer. There’s no evidence that formaldehyde leaches out of melamine every single time it’s used, but some studies, including one by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, have shown that the chemical can migrate out of melamine and into food under certain circumstances, such as heat and when serving highly acidic foods.

In my home we have been using glass, stainless steel, #5 plastics and wood. As far as plastics go, it is wise to never use abrasive detergents or scrubby sponges as this can cause degeneration, which can lead to leaching. Zissu discusses what she feels are the best alternatives:

My daughter eats from our own lead-free ceramic dishes. She also eats from small stainless-steel prep bowls purchased at a kitchen supply store, and even the occasional glass bowl. I know some moms and dads worry about shattering glass, but she’s never broken one, despite the fact that the floor under our dining table is poured concrete (inherited from someone else’s renovation). It probably helped that we have firmly explained to her over and over and over that she may not toss the things.

Avoiding all things plastic is not a new concept. The idea of toddlers throwing glass and ceramic bowls at the dog can be daunting, but as Zissu says, teaching can help alleviate flying objects (at least ideally.) People go back and forth with the plastics debate. A few weeks ago a study was released saying “everything is OK – you can use BPA” and some of my friends told me they felt duped into buying BPA-free. But, here’s the thing. If we know we are already exposed to all of these chemicals in our environment and have a higher body-burden than our civilization has ever seen, isn’t it wise to err on the side of caution? When so many still use microwaves and plastics together, this just seems like a no-brainer to me. We put this stuff through the dishwasher (heating to high temps,) we serve hot food on it, and we bang it around and scratch it up. The attitude of “well, everything is dangerous – everything causes cancer” is resigning responsibility and leaving the well-being of our youth up to Dow and Monsanto, who as we know, have done a bang-up job so far.