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August 11, 2011

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Illegal chemical in tableware

SOME tableware, including those widely used to feed babies, sold at local stores and supermarkets are made from a potentially cancer-inducing plastic material, a Shanghai Daily investigation discovered.

The chemical compound, called urea resin, is not included in the list of materials allowed by Chinese law to produce food containers and packages, such as dishes, plates and cups. When heated or contacted with strong acid or alkali, it can release formaldehyde, a harmful substance that can cause cancer. Bowls made from urea resin are easy to decorate with delicate patterns and because of their much lighter weight compared to china tableware, parents are fond of using them to feed babies.

Melamine is a safety-certified material allowed by law to produce plastic tableware but it's more costly than urea resin.

A news report by a Tianjin-based newspaper yesterday revealed many plastic tableware items sold in that city were made with a mix of the two materials: The products are completed with an inner base made from urea resin and then are covered with an exterior layer produced by melamine powder.

Such products are cheaper than those made completely from the harmless melamine material, the report said. The price advantage has attracted a stable crowd of customers.

Some Shanghai locals, especially parents, raised concerns over safety of local tableware products after learning the news online yesterday.

"I didn't realize that some of the tableware could be this harmful, as it's very common in the market. It's difficult to tell the unsafe ones only from their appearance," said Zhang Qian, a local resident and mother of a two-year-old boy, who was urging watchdogs to take action.

Despite the fact that the questionable products are sold at local shops in Shanghai, the local market watchdogs so far have not said they would launch an investigation.

The Shanghai Daily reporters visited several tableware stores and supermarkets downtown yesterday and discovered such products were being sold. Names of chemical materials used are clearly stated on the tags of the cups, dishes and bowls but none of the store runners nor the shoppers interviewed said they understood the danger of urea resin.

"I think it would be just fine. Since such plastic tableware are only used to hold food wastes," said the keeper of a small budget tableware store, surnamed Zhang.


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