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What Is Ethylenediamine?

By Canaan Downs
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ethylenediamine, also known as 1,2-diaminoethane, is a pharmacologically inactive organic compound used in various pharmaceutical drugs. It also is used in industry as a solvent, corrosion inhibitor and bleaching agent precursor, as well as in the production of polyurethane fibers and the dendrimers used in drug delivery. In the form of ethylenediamine dihydroiodide, it also serves as a nutrient additive in some cattle feeds. Despite research indicating that it is a topical irritant, this compound continues to be used as a stabilizer in some topical steroid medications.

The industrial manufacture of ethylenediamine is relatively simple. When 1,2-dichloroethane is mixed with ammonia and water and subjected to heat and pressure, it forms a salt as the amine mixes with free hydrogen chloride. The addition of sodium hydroxide causes the amine to be freed, and it can be isolated through rectification. This process generally is performed on a large scale, because large amounts of ethylenediamine are used industrially every year.

There are many medical applications for this chemical, as well. It is used in the production of various anti-histamine and anti-fungal medications, as well as in medical latex applications. Ethylenediamine is used in some topical steroid creams, although it has been removed from the creams sold in some countries, such as the United States and Canada, because it was found to cause skin irritation.

This chemical also has been used to improve the solubility of the diuretic bronchiodilator and the cardiac stimulant theophylline. Theophylline is the caffeine-like member of the methylxanthine chemical family that is found in tea leaves. Known as aminophylline, this proprietary formulation of theophylline and ethylenediamine has also been researched as a topical cream to reduce fat deposits.

Ethylenediamine is also the direct chemical precursor to ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), a compound used to remove toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury from the body. This process, known as chelation therapy, also can be used to remove excess iron from the bloodstream. Vitamin C, vitamin E and calcium also are stripped from the body during chelation therapy, suggesting that dietary supplements can be used for the duration of therapy. Exposure to even relatively low therapeutic levels of this compound is known to cause reproductive defects in animal studies, however. Since the intravenous use of EDTA for chelation has resulted in the deaths of some patients, so it is critically important that it is performed by a qualified doctor.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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