Ethyl carbamate, also known as urethane (chemical formula: C3H7NO2), is found as a colourless crystal or a white granular powder. It is odourless and soluble in water, benzene, ether, chloroform, glycerol and olive oil.
Ethyl carbamate is used as an intermediate in organic synthesis. This basically means that it helps to combine different substances together.
It is also used; in the preparation and modification of amino resins, as a solubiliser, as a co-solvent for pesticides and fumigants, and as a reagent in biochemical research.
Ethyl carbamate was used in pharmaceuticals to treat cancer until it was eventually discovered to be not only ineffective, but toxic and carcinogenic. The U.S. FDA has since withdrawn the chemical from pharmaceutical use.
It can also be found in foods that have been fermented, such as; beer, wine, whisky, kimchi, bread, soy sauce, yoghurt, olives.
The routes of exposure to ethyl carbamate include; skin and eye contact, inhalation or ingestion.
Repeated skin exposure through normal handling may result in crackling, flaking or dryness of the skin. Dioxane can be absorbed through the skin and may cause liver, kidney and brain damage. It is important that cuts, abrasions or irritated skin are not exposed to dioxane to avoid the chemicals entry into the bloodstream.
Eye exposure to ethyl carbamate may cause eye irritation including redness and slight abrasive damage.
Inhalation of high levels of dust may cause dizziness, lightheadedness and loss of consciousness. Very high levels of exposure can lead to brain and liver damage.
Ingestion of ethyl carbamate at high levels can lead to nausea and vomiting, allergic reactions (skin rashes, anaphylaxis, erythema, hypotensions, etc) and acute renal failure.
In the event of skin exposure; remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and cleanse the affected area with plenty of water and a non-abrasive soap. Contaminated clothing must be washed before wearing again. Seek medical attention
If eye exposure occurs, skilled personnel should remove any contact lenses and flush the eye with running water for at least fifteen minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Do not use an eye ointment. Seek medical attention.
If ethyl carbamate has been inhaled by a person, allow the patient to rest in a well ventilated area. Seek medical attention immediately.
If swallowed, seek medical attention immediately and do not induce vomiting. Loosen tight collars and belts and if they are not breathing (and you are qualified to do so), perform CPR. Seek medical attention immediately.
In 2007, the International Agency for Research on Cancer raised ethyl carbamate to a Group 2A carcinogen that is “probably carcinogenic to humans” as it was reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans based on previous studies on animals.
Ensure ventilation is adequate in the immediate area where the chemical is being handled and if necessary, have local exhaust ventilation installed.
Safety showers and emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure.
The recommended PPE for handling ethyl carbamate includes: