Health Effects and Sources of Melamine Exposure

October 14, 2021
1:00 pm US Eastern Time


Melamine is a man-made high-production volume chemical used in many different consumer products like textiles, fertilizer, cooking utensils, plastic tableware, and other types of food packaging. It is also increasingly being found in many children’s products and food ware. Studies have shown that ambient melamine exposure is higher in children in the US compared to other countries and has been linked to kidney injury and chronic kidney disease. [1] With a shift from disposable to reusable tableware, melamine is increasingly found in reusable food contact materials, posing increased risk of exposure and potential long-term impacts on health and development. In 2004, 2007 and 2008 melamine was used for illegally increasing protein content of infant formula and pet food, leading to many deaths and illnesses in human babies and pets. Melamine is a hazardous chemical, possibly carcinogenic and a mobile and persistent environmental pollutant.

Melamine in food contact materials: What you need to know

During this webinar, Dr. Jane Muncke gave an overview of the varied uses of melamine and associated adverse health effects from exposure in food contact materials. She then focused her talk on melamine’s use in food contact materials. Scientists have found that it migrates from food contact materials into foods, with this being one of the better studied sources of human exposure.

Sources and pathways of human exposure to melamine and its derivatives

Dr. Kurunthachalam Kannan presented research investigating sources and pathways of human exposure to melamine and cyanuric acid in the United States, through the analysis of these chemicals in drinking water, fertilizers, soil, foodstuffs, indoor dust, melamine bowls, textiles, urine and breast milk. Based on urinary concentrations he and co-investigators found melamine and cyanuricacid exposures through diet (mainly dairyproducts, cereals, and meat), accounted for ~20% of the total intakes, while tap water and bottledwater contributed toless than 10% of the total daily exposures. Melamine and cyanuric acid were found in breast milk, fertilizers, and food packaging. Finally, the study reported several unidentified exposure sources of these nephrotoxicants.

Melamine and cyanuric acid exposure and kidney injury in US children

Melamine is a well-known infant kidney toxicant in high doses, especially in combination with cyanuric acid, resulting in stones and sometimes death. Little is known about health impacts from lower dose background exposures. Drs. Sheela Sathyanarayana and Drew Day presented data on relationships between prenatal and postnatal melamine and melamine analogues and child kidney biomarkers from cohort studies.

Featured Speakers

Jane Muncke, PhD, is the managing director of Food Packaging Forum, a charitable foundation that she set up in 2012 in Zurich, Switzerland. Jane holds a PhD in ecotoxicology and an MSc in environmental science from ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). She specializes in science communication about chemicals in all types of food contact materials and articles, and their impacts on human health and the environment. Jane is actively publishing research on this topic, and publicly speaks about the chemicals challenge in general, and food packaging’s impacts in particular. Since 2019 she is an elected member of the BioSuisse committee on trade and processing, as well as a full scientific member of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the American Chemical Society, the Society for Toxicology, and the Endocrine Society. Jane is also a trained improvisational actor with 15 years of professional acting experience, and a former rowing coach and competitive athlete, as well as a mother of two very active boys. She was born in South Africa, was educated in Germany and now lives with her family in Zurich.

Kurunthachalam Kannan, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Environmental Pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.  He has published over 780 research articles in peer-reviewed journals, 25 book chapters and co-edited a book.  Dr. Kannan is the top 5 most highly cited researchers (ISI) in Ecology/Environment globally with an H-index of 135 (google scholar) or 118 (scopus).  He is known for his work on the discovery of perfluorochemicals in the global environment, among several others. Currently his research is focused on biomonitoring of human exposure to organic pollutants.  He is one of the top leaders in the field of human biomonitoring and his laboratory is well funded by the U.S. federal government agencies such as National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Dr. Kannan has a stellar career throughout his life including winning gold medals for his top rank in undergraduate and graduate education.  He has won several medals, international awards and honors throughout his career and to name a few, Governor’s gold medal in 1986 and SETAC’s Weston F Roy Environmental Chemistry award in 1999.   Recently he has been awarded by New York State Department of Health’s Sturman Award for Excellence in Research. He was on the editorial board of several journals and editor-in-chief of several journals.  He has mentored more than 15 Master’s and doctoral level students and advised more than 60 postdoctoral research associates in his laboratory and secured more than 25 million dollars in research grants in the past 15 years.  Dr. Kannan has given hundreds of invited lectures and keynote speeches in his career is well known internationally for his work on contaminants in the environment.

Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Pediatrics and Adjunct Professor within the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Her research interests focus on exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals and their impact on perinatal and child health. Dr. Sathyanarayana serves as the PI for The Infant Development and Environment Study.  She is a co-principal investigator for the NIH Environmental Factors Affecting Child Health Outcomes PATHWAYS study at the University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. This study combines three cohorts, GAPPS, TIDES, and CANDLE to examine environmental exposures, the placental transcriptome, and child health outcomes. She served as past chair of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee and as well as on the National Academies of Sciences, National Research Council Committee on Endocrine-Related Low Dose Toxicity. She currently serves on the US EPA’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals for the Toxics Substances Control Act. She also practices medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center as Medical Director of the Newborn Nursery.

Drew Day, PhD, is a trained toxicologist and epidemiologist within Sheela Sathyanarayana’s lab at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development. He serves as a principal investigator on a NIH Environmental Factors Affecting Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Opportunities and Infrastructure Fund (OIF) grant investigating patterns of co-occurrence for pediatric health outcomes related to neurodevelopment, airway development, and obesity. Dr. Day’s research has included examining links between maternal estrogen and testosterone or mixtures of phthalate plasticizer chemicals during pregnancy and child behavior, between prenatal gene transcription in the placenta and child behavior, and between childhood melamine and kidney health. His statistical research has included improving the performance of existing models assessing links between health outcomes and mixtures of chemical exposures using alternate permutation test-based p-value calculations.

This webinar was moderated by Karen Wang, PhD, director of CHE. It lasted for 70 minutes and was recorded for our call and webinar archive.