Product Safety Assessment (PSA): Salts of Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (EDTA)
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Manufacture of Product
Physical Hazard Information
- Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is a chelating agent produced as a series of salts. A chelating agent is a material that tightly binds or captures metal ions. The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) is one of four major producers in the U.S. and Europe of aminopolycarboxylic chelants. It manufactures under the trade name of VERSENE™ chelating agents. EDTA falls into this category of chelant. Chelants, or chelating agents, can be used in agriculture, food processing, cleaners and detergents, pulp and paper manufacturing, textiles manufacturing/dyeing and water treatment.1 See Product Uses.
- Salts of EDTA are typically sold as an aqueous solution for controlling / binding metal ions over a broad pH range in aqueous (water-based) systems.2 Salts of EDTA typically exist as a light amber liquid and some have a slight amine odor. Some salts are sold as dry powders. Depending on the pH of the product, if they are handled incorrectly, they can cause severe eye burns and burns to the mouth and throat. They may cause skin irritation and can cause damage to lungs if aspirated. Available information supports the conclusion that exposure to salts of EDTA at levels found in product formulations (typically at low concentration) does not impact human health. See Health Information.
- Occupational exposure is dependent upon the conditions under which salts of EDTA are used. Under fire conditions, salts of EDTA can decompose and the smoke may contain toxic and/or irritating compounds.3 See Exposure Potential and Physical Hazard Information.
- Based on currently available information, there is no indication of harmful effects of EDTA due to long-term exposure to low concentrations found in the environment. There is no evidence of bio-accumulation of salts of EDTA in aquatic organisms.4 Salts of EDTA do not pass tests as “readily biodegradable.” Salts of EDTA will biodegrade very slowly under ambient environmental conditions. However, salts of EDTA do photodegrade. See Environmental Information.
- Global Consumption – Dow is one of four major producers in the world of aminopolycarboxylic chelants. It manufactures under the trade name of VERSENE™ chelating agents. Global consumption of aminopolycarboxylic chelants (excluding nitrilotriacetic acid, NTA) was 330 million pounds (149 thousand metric tons) in 2002. Dow chelating agents are manufactured in North America and Europe and are available around the world.
- Process – Dow manufactures EDTA by reacting ethylenediamine with formaldehyde, cyanide and sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) in a closed system to produce tetrasodium EDTA. (This process is used by other manufacturers as well). Other salts of EDTA are produced via subsequent processing of this material.
EDTA is an aminopolycarboxylic salt. The various salts of EDTA typically exist as clear to amber liquids. Some have a slight amine odor. They can be used as chelating agents over a broad pH range in aqueous systems. Some salts are produced as dry powders and crystals. These salts are water soluble, but insoluble in acid and organic liquids.6,7
Chelating agents bind or capture trace amounts of iron, copper, manganese, calcium and other metals that occur naturally in many materials. Such naturally occurring metals can cause foods to degrade, chemical degradation, discoloration, scaling, instability, rancidity, ineffective cleaning performance and other problems.
Chelating agents are used as components or process chemicals in a wide variety of applications, but five uses (pulp & paper, cleaning, chemical processing, agriculture and water treatment) account for about 80% of worldwide consumption (see pie chart).8 Specific uses for EDTA include:
- Cleaning products – to remove hard water scale, soap film, and inorganic scales in a wide variety of cleaning products and formulations, including hard surface cleaners, institutional cleaners, laundry detergents, liquid soaps, germicidal and anti-bacterial cleansing preparations, and vehicle cleaners
- Metalworking – for surface preparation, metal cleaning, metal plating, and in metalworking fluids
- Oil field applications – in the drilling, production, and recovery of oil
- Personal care products – to increase effectiveness and improve stability of bar and solid soaps; bath preparations; creams, oils, and ointments; hair preparations, shampoos and almost every type of personal care formulation
- Polymerization – for suspension, emulsion, and solution polymers, both in polymerization reactions and for finished polymer stabilization
- Agriculture – to stabilize formulations and to provide micronutrients to fertilizers
- Photography – as a bleach in photographic film processing
- Pulp and paper – to maximize bleaching efficiency during pulping, prevent brightness reversion, and protect bleach potency
- Scale removal and prevention – to clean calcium and other types of scale from boilers, evaporators, heat exchangers, filter cloths, and glass-lined kettles
- Textiles – in all phases of textile processing, particularly the scouring, dyeing and color stripping stages
- Water treatment – to control water hardness and scale-forming calcium and magnesium ions; to prevent scale formation
- Consumer products – in food and pharmaceutical applications
Salts of EDTA are formulated in some consumer products, but are not sold by Dow directly to consumers. Based on the uses for salts of EDTA, the public could be exposed through:
- Workplace exposure – Exposure can occur in various industrial and manufacturing facilities that use salts of EDTA. Good general ventilation should be sufficient for most conditions, although local exhaust ventilation may be necessary for some operations. Chemical goggles, gloves and long-sleeved, body-covering clothing should be worn when handling salts of EDTA. Each manufacturing, industrial and service facility should have appropriate work process and safety equipment policies in place to limit EDTA exposure. Good industrial hygiene practices minimize the risk of exposure.
- Consumer exposure to products containing EDTA – EDTA salts are used as a component in food products, pharmaceuticals and formulated consumer products, such as soaps, shampoos and detergents, so the potential exists for consumer exposure. It is important to read and follow the instructions for product use on the product container. For risks specific to any of the salts of EDTA, see Health Information or the respective Safety Data Sheet.
- Environmental releases – In the event of a spill, the focus should be on containing the spill to prevent contamination of soil, surface or ground water. Should salts of EDTA reach soil and water nearby, they are practically non-toxic to fish; however human and animal contact with contaminated soil should be avoided. Contact with strong oxidizers and metals should also be avoided. See Environmental, Health and Physical Hazard Information.
- Large release – Industrial spills or releases are infrequent. If a large spill does occur, evacuate the area and keep upwind of the release. Ventilate the area of the leak or spill. The material should be contained, collected and re-processed, or disposed of according to applicable governmental requirements. Emergency personnel should wear proper protective equipment and follow emergency procedures carefully. Under fire conditions, some components of EDTA may decompose. The smoke may contain unidentified toxic and/or irritating compounds. Combustion products may include but are not limited to: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and ammonia. Isolate the fire area and deny unnecessary entry (keep people away). Avoid contact with the material and smoke during fire fighting operations. Avoid contact with strong oxidizers and metals. See Environmental, Health and Physical Hazard information.
If handled improperly (in pure form), some salts of EDTA (e.g., high pH tetrasodium EDTA) may cause severe irritation of the eye which may result in permanent impairment of vision and even blindness. Prolonged skin contact may cause slight irritation which may become more severe if skin is scratched or cut. Other salts (e.g., VERSENE™ CA chelant) are essentially non-irritating to the skin. The difference in irritation is based on the pH and the residual salts.
Although all of the salts of EDTA have low toxicity if ingested, swallowing of some of the extremely high or low pH salts may result in gastrointestinal irritation or ulceration and burns of the mouth and throat. Do not induce vomiting. Give one cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of water or milk and transport to a medical facility. Do not give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.
EDTA chelating agents typically exist as aqueous solutions (although some are sold as dry powders or crystals), so the vapors are primarily water and not hazardous. However, mists of the solution may cause irritation of the nose and throat. Aspiration can cause damage to the lungs.
EDTA did not cause cancer in laboratory animals. Sodium salts of EDTA have been reported to cause birth defects in laboratory animals only at doses that were toxic to the mother. These effects are likely associated with zinc deficiency due to chelation. Exposures having no effect on the mother should have no effect on the fetus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have independently assessed the health safety of EDTA and have set the acceptable daily intake of EDTA at 2.5 mg/kg/person/day or roughly 150 mg/day for the calcium disodium salt11. Human consumption of EDTA at levels observed in drinking water combined with that amount of EDTA consumed as part of average daily food intake, are well within WHO and FDA acceptable daily intake guidelines.12
Note: The level of EDTA in product formulations typically exists at low concentrations and does not result in any of the known acute effects mentioned above. The effects noted are only after significant exposure to the neat (undiluted or pure) material. For more information on the health hazards of EDTA and recommended protective equipment, view the Safety Data Sheet.
Salts of EDTA are soluble in water and form ions (e.g., Na+) and EDTA. Salts of EDTA are not harmful to aquatic organisms at levels found in the environment. Actual concentrations of EDTA in surface waters are about one one-thousandth of levels at which any adverse effects on aquatic life might be expected to occur. Furthermore, there is no evidence of bio-accumulation of EDTA in aquatic organisms.13
Although EDTA does not past tests as “readily biodegradable”, EDTA will biodegrade very slowly in soil or water and the salts of EDTA are water soluble and rapidly degrade with light (e.g., by photodegradation) when in the hydrosphere. In fact, results of a monitoring study near a paper mill indicate that very little EDTA was detected downstream from a discharge site and that concentrations were higher in deeper than shallow water. These results are consistent with photodegradation of salts of EDTA in the aqueous environment.14 Conclusions from the European Risk Assessment of EDTA show that there is no risk to the environment.15
Some components of the salts of EDTA can decompose at elevated temperatures (typically above 400ºF or 204ºC). This material should be stored between 0 and 120ºF (-18º and 49ºC). Decomposition products depend on temperature, air supply and the presence of other materials.
Salts of EDTA should not come into contact with strong oxidizers. Avoid contact with metals such as zinc, aluminum, carbon steel, copper, copper alloys, galvanized metals and nickel. Flammable hydrogen gas may be generated when a salt of EDTA comes in contact with metals such as aluminum. This would present an explosion and fire hazard.
EDTA chelating agents are not flammable, but under fire conditions, the water evaporates from the aqueous solution and the EDTA residue burns. Smoke may contain unidentified toxic and/or irritating compounds. Combustion products include but are not limited to: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and ammonia.
Isolate the fire area and deny unnecessary entry. Avoid contact with the material and smoke during fire-fighting operations. Wear positive-pressure, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and protective fire fighting clothing. If contact with this material is likely during fire-fighting operations, wear full chemical resistant fire fighting clothing with SCBA.
Additional fire-fighting instructions and physical property information for salts of EDTA are available on the Safety Data Sheets.
Regulations may exist that govern the manufacture, sale, transportation, use and/or disposal of EDTA. These regulations may vary by city, state, country or geographic region. Information may be found by consulting the relevant Safety Data Sheet or Contact Us.
- Safety Data Sheet
- VERSENE™ Chelating Agents Literature on Dow web site
- Technical Data Sheet
- European Union Risk Assessment Report, Tetrasodium Ethylenediaminetetraacetate (Na4EDTA)
- Dow Chelating Agents brochure
For more business information about the salts of EDTA, visit Dow’s VERSENE Chelating Agents web site.
Last Updated: May 2, 2006
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1 Aminocarboxylic Acid-Based Chelants, HPV Challenge Program Test Plan and Category Justification, The Chelants Panel of the American Chemistry Council, May 11, 2004, page 3.
3 Dow Tetrasodium Salt of EDTA Safety Data Sheet, No. 568, May 12, 2004, page 3.
4 EDTA & the Environment: Questions & Answers, prepared by the Detergent Ingredient Review Committee of Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, October, 1995, pages 2-3.
5 Chemical Economics Handbook Product Review Chelating Agents, SRI International, October 2003, pages 5-6, 16-17.
6 Dow Tetrasodium Salt of EDTA Safety Data Sheet, No. 568, May 12, 2004, page 1.
8 Chemical Economics Handbook Product Review Chelating Agents, SRI International, October 2003, pages 5-6, and 16-17.
9 Dow Tetrasodium Salt of EDTA Safety Data Sheet, No. 568, May 12, 2004, page 3-7.
10 Dow Tetrasodium Salt of EDTA Safety Data Sheet, No. 568, May 12, 2004, page 1-3.
11 Toxicological Profile, Current Use, and Regulatory Issues on EDTA Compounds for Assessing Use of Sodium Iron EDTA for Food Fortification, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, Volume 18, 1993, page 423.
12 EDTA & the Environment: Questions & Answers, prepared by the Detergent Ingredient Review Committee of Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, October, 1995, page 2.
13 EDTA & the Environment: Questions & Answers, prepared by the Detergent Ingredient Review Committee of Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, October, 1995, pages 1-3.
14 Aminocarboxylic Acid-Based Chelants, HPV Challenge Program Test Plan and Category Justification, The Chelants Panel of the American Chemistry Council, May 11, 2004, page 15.
15 European Union Risk Assessment Report, Tetrasodium Ethylenediaminetetraacetate (Na4EDTA), Institute for Health and Consumer Protection, European Chemicals Bureau, 2004, http://ecb.jrc.it/DOCUMENTS/Existing-Chemicals/RISK_ASSESSMENT/REPORT/na4edtareport062.pdf.
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