October 10, 2008

Doesn't this mimic a real post?

I dig those mixing bowls, at least the look of them. In all honesty, they aren't very comfortable to actually use because their handles are way too small to hold comfortably. If you're doing any significant amount of mixing, you're going to get a hand cramp.

So I'm going to suggest that you take any bowls you have of that sort, bleach out the color, run them through some sort of chipper/shredder, and then add them in to your milk.

Just to stretch things a little bit.

See, melamine is a chemical - a polymer, really, which is nothing but a a big molecule made up of smaller molecules. The small molecule - called a monomer - has the formula C3H6N6, and we mix it with formaldahyde to make a resin that we can then cast into just about any shape possible. It's made into bowls and plates, ashtrays, plastic figures, any plastic that needs to be reasonably durable and inflexible.

We use malamine as a concrete additive to make the finished product more durable and resistant to chemical attacks. And we've used melamine as a fertilizer because it has those fun -NH2 groups (called amines, hence the melamine name). According to Wikipedia, the fertilizer thing didn't work out too well, however, because the reactions that make that nitrogen available for use by the plants are too slow to be reliable and useful.

Which is the same reason why adding melamine to feedstocks didn't work out. The reactions in cows' stomachs aren't any faster, so the nitrogen didn't become available for the cattle to use to build proteins. I'm guessing that those reactions aren't exactly any faster inside the belly of a little baby, either.

Which is why melamine has been in the news lately. Apparently some folks in China (and I'm guessing in some other countries, as well), are adding melamine to their milk leading it to show up in Cadbury chocolate and baby formula.

See, from what I can gather, the milk industry in China isn't doing all that well. Apparently there's something about a butterfly flapping its wings here in the US. But no matter...what's important is that some of the milk producers have been watering down their milk, trying to sell a few extra gallons out of the supply. To make up for this, they then throw in something that will mimic a protein in the tests that are done on the milk.

Seems that the tests - apparently the Kjeldahl and Dumas tests - just measure how much nitrogen is in a sample, especially if that nitrogen is in a -NH2 group like it is in proteins. You throw a little extra nitrogen-containing compound in there, and the tests can't tell the difference.

Sure, according to the World Health Organization...
While there are no direct human studies on the effect of melamine, data from animal studies can be used to predict adverse health effects. Melamine alone causes bladder stones in animal tests. When combined with cyanuric acid, which may also be present in melamine powder, melamine can form crystals that can give rise to kidney stones.

These small crystals can also block the small tubes in the kidney potentially stopping the production of urine, causing kidney failure and, in some cases, death. Melamine has also been shown to have carcinogenic effects in animals in certain circumstances, but there is insufficient evidence to make a judgment on carcinogenic risk in humans.

and the signs of melamine injestion would be [i]rritability, blood in urine, little or no urine, signs of kidney infection, high blood pressure
...but that's really no reason not to chop it up and stretch that hamburger helper just a little further, to stretch that pet food dollar just a little more.

Or you could just keep it as the bowl instead of in the bowl.

Thanks, by the way, to Time magazine, Scientific American, and WiseGeek for the additional research sources.

Radio Australia had an interesting interview in which a World Health Organization official had this to say in terms of what this problems means upon reflection and moving forward:
I think around 20 years ago, we had a huge scandal in Austria, where they put glycol in the wine , and as you know, we had mad cow disease in the UK , and we had contaminated olive oil in Spain, and most recently , cheese contamination in Italy. So there is a lot of experiences in other countries. EU has been very effective in trying to address and improve the issue. And China is very interested to learn from other countries, so that's something we bring to the table.

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