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FAQ: Melamine in U.S. Baby Formula

Questions and Answers About Trace Amounts of Melamine in U.S. Infant Formula
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 26, 2008 -- Tiny "trace" amounts of potentially toxic melamine reportedly detected in U.S.-made infant formula pose little if any risk to kids, experts tell WebMD.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Associated Press reported that the FDA had been testing U.S.-made baby formula for melamine.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the FDA admitted that one brand of formula contained very small amounts of melamine. Another brand contained similarly tiny amounts of cyanuric acid, a related chemical. And a third maker of infant formula told the AP that its own tests detected small amounts of melamine in its product.

As recently as last October, the FDA said it did not know of any safe level of melamine in baby formula. Last Friday, the agency said that melamine and cyanuric acid are safe in baby formula at levels up to 1 part per million.

All of the baby formula that tested positive for melamine or cyanuric acid had levels of the toxins well below 1 part per million.

In China, melamine was deliberately added to infant formula to make it appear to have a higher protein content. This resulted in melamine levels vastly higher than those found in U.S. formula. More than 52,000 children developed kidney stones. There were more than 13,000 hospitalizations and at least two deaths.

The FDA has not found any Chinese infant formula in the U.S., and has warned all manufacturers not to use milk products imported from China unless they have been tested for melamine contamination.

American-made infant formula is not made with milk products from China. The trace amounts of melamine detected in U.S. infant formula apparently came from routine contact with melamine-containing substances during the manufacturing process. There is no reason to suspect the melamine was added deliberately.

Should parents worry? WebMD consulted with experts who answered your questions.

What is melamine?

Melamine, also known as cyanuramide, is a synthetic chemical product that forms hard resins when combined with formaldehyde. It is used in a wide range of products such as cooking utensils, plates, industrial coatings, paper and paperboard, and flame retardant.

Melamine has also been used as fertilizer, although not in the U.S.

 

What happens when kids consume melamine?

Humans and animals that consume toxic doses of melamine develop kidney stones. These hard crystals can block urinary flow and make urination painful. They can also cause kidney failure and death, pediatric kidney specialist Marc B. Lande, MD, MPH, of the University of Rochester, N.Y., tells WebMD.

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