Ethanolamine(C2H7NO), also called 2-aminoethanol or monoethanolamine (often abbreviated as ETA or MEA), is an organic chemical compound that is both a primary amine and a primary alcohol (due to a hydroxyl group), making it useful in a variety of industrial applications. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classifies ethanolamine as having an Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) rating at 1,000 parts per million (ppm) concentration for skin exposure or 30 ppm for inhaled concentrations.
It is a toxic, flammable, corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid with an odor similar to that of ammonia. It is also toxic and corrosive upon exposure to human skin, despite being used in various cosmetics such as hair waving agents and soaps. At room temperature, ethanolamine takes on a thick, clear liquid form that is flammable, and has an odor like that of ammonia. Ethanolamine is the second-most-abundant head group for phospholipids, substances found in biological membranes, and is also used in messenger molecules such as palmitoylethanolamide which has an effect on CB1 receptors.
Thye chemical is generally classed as a primary amine chemical but can also be labeled as a primary alcohol, and it is most frequently used as both an agricultural fungicide and microbicide in nations such as New Zealand. The capability of ethanolamine to bind to various other compounds makes it useful as a scrubbing agent to remove highly toxic hydrogen sulphide gas, H2S in crude oil production or carbon dioxide gas, CO2, in various industries. This also makes it useful as a binding agent in dry cleaning, wool treatment, and to enhance the performance characteristics of various paints and polishes.
Aqueous solutions of Ethanolamine (solutions of MEA in water) are used as a gas stream scrubbing liquid in amine treaters. For example, aqueous MEA is used to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from flue gas. Aqueous solutions can weakly dissolve certain kinds of gases from a mixed gas stream. The MEA in such solutions, acting as a weak base, then neutralizes acidic compounds dissolved in the solution to turn the molecules into an ionic form, making them polar and considerably more soluble in a cold MEA solution, and thus keeping such acidic gases dissolved in this gas-scrubbing solution.
Since ethanolamine poses serious risks to human health through corrosive skin burns, damage to the eyes, or through inhalation damage to the respiratory tract, it must be handled with caution. Prolonged human exposure to very low concentrations of the compound have also been shown to degrade teeth and jaw bones, as well as lead to respiratory ailments such as bronchial pneumonia, as well as have detrimental effects on the internal organs of the liver and kidneys.