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Melamine is an organic compound that is often combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin, a synthetic polymer that is fire resistant and heat tolerant. The resin is a versatile material that has a highly stable structure. Its uses include whiteboards, floor tiles, kitchenware, fire retardant fabrics and commercial filters. Melamine can be easily molded while warm but will set into a fixed form, which makes it suitable for certain industrial applications. This compound is considered safe for its normal uses, but food products that are contaminated with it can be unsafe for consumption.
This type of resin is made by mixing melamine with formaldehyde, and sometimes urea, under heat and pressure. The substances begin to polymerize, and are forced into a mold to create the desired shape. Under pressure, melamine releases water, which could make the plastic unstable if it is not removed. The materials finish polymerizing and create a finished product.
Melamine resin is known as a thermoset plastic because it is fixed after molding. If exposed to enough heat, it will decompose. For this reason, this type of dishware should not be exposed to high temperatures such as those in an oven or microwave. This type of resin also is difficult to recycle.
Foam products also can be made out of melamine. This foam has a distinctive structure composed of stacked bubble shapes that are extremely hard and therefore can easily clean a wide variety of substances. Melamine foam is marketed under a variety of commercial names, including several sponge-like products that are known for removing scuffs and dirt from a wide range of surfaces.
Melamine also plays a role in a wide range of flame-resistant materials. These include textiles that are used in upholstery and the uniforms worn by firemen. Thermal liners and heat-resistant gloves and aprons also are made using melamine.
Some filters also are made out of melamine. The material is porous and will admit substances to pass through but can be used to filter out particles of a particular size. These filters are capable of handling a high capacity, can be used in hot environments and are extremely efficient.
Melamine became a subject of health concerns in the early 21st century, when it was determined to be the cause of death for some children and many pets. It was discovered that milk producers in China had added this compound to milk products in order to raise their nitrogen content, thereby raising their protein levels according to the simple testing procedures that are commonly used. These adulterated milk products were used in other products, such as pet food, infant formula and yogurt, that was sold to consumers in China and other countries. The melamine content of these products, however, was greater than what had been considered to be safe levels. China then took steps intended to eliminate the addition of melamine to milk products.