Friday, September 26, 2008

Melamine or melanine?

I am sure we all have heard about the milk catastrophe in China where milk manufacturers used a dangerous substance to fake high protein levels in milk. The practice has been exposed after several babies have died and thousands have been hospitalized in China due to illnesses caused by the substance.

The crisis has triggered a milk scare all over the world including the Philippines. Bloggers have been fast to write about it, I am sure with the intention of providing as much information as possible. But then, I noticed some blog writeups, even emails, using the term "melanine" instead of melamine.

What is it really, melamine or melanine? A search on melamine in Google led me to the Wikipedia entry of a chemical substance used in the production of melamine resin, a certain type of plastic. On top is a note which says the term should not be confused with "melanin", a pigment found in our skin and hair, or with melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone regulating the circadian rhythms of most animals.

Clearly the answer to our question is melamine. It is an organic base with the chemical formula C3H6N6. It was first synthesized by the German chemist Justus von Liebig in 1834. It is, among other uses, combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin, a very durable thermosetting plastic, and melamine foam, a polymeric cleaning product.

The end products include countertops, dry erase boards, fabrics, glues, housewares and flame retardants. It is also one of the major compoonents in Pigment Yellow 150, a colorant in inks and plastics.

In the on-going China milk scandal, melamine was illegally added to milk products in order to increase apparent protein content. This is because standard tests like Kjeldahl and Dumas estimates protein level by measuring the nitrogen content, thus can be be misled by nitrogen-rich compounds like melamine.

One thing is sure. The milk crisis is so grave that we ought to handle it with utmost care. There is obviously no room for inaccuracies. Otherwise, we contribute to the confusion rather than help address the problem.

1 comment:

andianka said...

haha! good one. very significant info. i was also quite confused upon hearing the news. i couldn't make up the word and was thinking if its melanine, couldn't they use the milk products taken from the market for soap instead? makes sense right? hehe... well, glad it's cleared now. :D