Peshawar: Impure forms of melamine, a popular material for kitchen ware, may cause kidney stones and has been linked to cancer, according to a Peshawar-based doctor and melamine manufacturer.

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“Melamine mixed with urea formaldehyde causes kidney disorder as it accumulates in the kidney, ultimately causing kidney stones,” said Doctor Asif Izhar, Registrar at Nephrology Department in Khyber Teaching Hospital Peshawar.

Melamine kitchenware sellers say many manufacturers claim their wares are made of pure melamine. But the kitchen products available in the marker are frequently made of impure melamine – a mix of different chemicals, often toxic, with melamine – or made of other materials coated with melamine.

“Fake melamine tableware is made with a combination of melamine and urea formaldehyde (CH2O) that is not safe,” Saad Khan, a supervisor and owner of a melamine wares manufacturing factory at Peshawar told News Lens Pakistan.

The US-based National Cancer Institute (NCI) describes formaldehyde as a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and many household products. It is also commonly used as an industrial fungicidegermicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.

Laboratory studies in the 1980s showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats, according to an NCI factsheet on cancer risks associated with formaldehyde.

In 1987 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure, according to the NCI. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. 

Saad Khan said that urea formaldehyde has lower melting point than melamine. When hot food or liquids, with temperature above 70°C, are put in fake melamine tableware, they secrete toxic chemicals h contaminating the food.

Khan, however, claimed that kitchenware produced in his factory under his supervision is made of pure melamine.

On the other hand, Ahmad Zar Badshah, a wholesale supplier of melamine and plastic kitchenware in Peshawar city said he had been buying melamine tableware from factories of Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar for the past one decade but not a single factory in these cities produced pure melamine products.

“Despite claims from manufacturers that their product is pure, melamine kitchenware available in the market is made of other material with only a coating of melamine powder imported from China,” Badshah told News Lens Pakistan.

Badshah said pure melamine ware is rarely available in market, except that which is imported from other countries and much costlier than the local made fake melamine products.

According to wholesale dealers of melamine products in the old city, pure and authentic melamine wares are shatterproof and break resistant. They are heavier, thicker, smoother and shinier than the fake ones that have an appearance similar to plastic.

“Fake melamine wares get stained by dark-coloured drinks such as coffee or tea in no time,” Badshah told News Lens Pakistan.

Saad Khan said fake melamine wares deform, bend and even melt when heated or boiled for a period of 30 minutes to 1 hour.

“If burning the tip of a melamine product with wax for 20 seconds releases a pungent smell of formaldehyde gas, it means the product is not pure melamine and a health risk,” Khan told News Lens Pakistan.

“Pure melamine dishware is safe as melamine does not enter food but even pure wares are harmful if not handled with care.”

He said if food served or stored in a melamine-based dishware has temperature over 160° F, particularly if the food is acidic, melamine molecules will break to enter food and drinks, causing renal conditions such as kidney stones.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s factsheet on melamine warns that products with high levels of melamine contamination “may put people at risk of conditions such as kidney stones and kidney failure, and of death”.  


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