Sciencemadness Discussion Board

How bad is Dichloroethane really?

jesse13359 - 15-8-2016 at 23:03

During my first internship, one day I worked all day with a Dichloroethane solvent for the analysis on suppositories (I guess that's what you call them in english?) Anyhow, everything went perfectly, not even a single drop on my gloves.
The pipettes I used to dilute, were under the fume hood for another 4 hours before I began cleaning them.
When I was cleaning the pipettes under warm water (because some pipettes had dried-fatty substances in them) I made the mistake of not wearing gloves. As I thought they were all dry, I thought it wasn't necessary.
Today I would not made that mistake again, because you never know what leftovers in your pipette remain. I always wear gloves.

However, I did not do it then. So, I have always thought that whatever leftovers were still in the pipettes, my exposure on my hands cannot be more than two drops. Also, I know that held every pipette in such a way that my fingers only touched the area's that never came in the volumetric flask .

So, how bad is 1,2-Dichloroethane really? The MSDS says nothing about cancer when it comes to acute exposure. But as far as I know, Dichloroethane is still a carcinogen. How bad is this? Or are two drops nothing to worry about?

I'm sorry if I posted this in the wrong section, I'm new here, and I since I discovered these forums, I like to read all those very interesting topics about chemistry. :)

j_sum1 - 16-8-2016 at 01:44

Yep. This is probably a post for beginnings. But I will answer your question anyway from the little knowledge I have.

[edit -- I misread the OP. I thought it said dichloromethane. Comments below relate to CH2Cl2. I expect that (CH2Cl)2 would be similar as a low mass chloroalkane but I have no direct experience. I know that 1,1,1 trichloroethane was once used as a solvent for white-out fluids and could be bought OTC separately at one stage. But I don't really know its properties.]

DCM is the active ingredient in paint strippers. As such it is sold over the counter in many paces around the world. Recommended procedure is to wear gloves but the reality is that the manufacturers and suppliers have little control over that and it is understood that not everyone will take appropriate precautions.
DCM was until the seventies used to decaffeinate coffee. So it was used in intimate contact with a food product. This doesn't really tell us much since it is pretty volatile and is unlikely to have had any measurable residue in the product. But that does tell you that it is not scary-toxic.
About a year ago I had an interesting wound suddenly appear on my lower leg. I scratched it during the night and a 5cm circle of skin delaminated. It was not painful but it was itchy and the skin damage meant it bled a bit. After thinking it through the only conclusion I could come to was that I had spilled some paint stripper on my leg without noticing when I was distilling it for some DCM earlier in the day. It would likely have been in contact for a few hours. it did take a couple of months to heal. But really no significant side effects.
DCM's uglier cousin, chloroform is famous for its use as an anaesthetic in bygone times. It actually smells a lot nicer than dichloromethane but I believe is more toxic. I don't speak from experience but I believe that acute symptoms include headaches, light-headedness, general dis-ease and, at high doses, loss of consciousness. (That is exposure to vapours. I know nothing about skin exposure or taking it internally.) Chronic exposure is likely to be carcinogenic. And of course, the grand-daddy of them all, tetrachloromethane, is really to be avoided.

So the bottom line here is that, although exposure is to be avoided, a brief contact on the skin such as you describe is unlikely to have any effect at all. Wash it off. Check the site the next day. and if nothing else happens, forget about it.

[Edited on 16-8-2016 by j_sum1]

jesse13359 - 16-8-2016 at 01:55

With DCM you mean dichloromethane or dichloroethane? Thank you very much! This applies to dichloroethane as well? :)

I will post this to beginnings next time ;)

woelen - 16-8-2016 at 01:58

@j_sum1: The OP talks about dichloroethane, not dichloromethane.

The compound 1,2-dichloroethane most likely is somewhat carcinogenic and it has moderate acute toxicity, probably much like DCM. But with exposure to these compounds, it is like smoking cigarettes. You do not get cancer from a single cigarette, it is repeated exposure over extended periods of time which cause problems. Similarly, you do not get cancer from a single brief exposure (a few drops) to 1,2 dichloroethane.
If you get exposed to this compound every day for an extended period of time, then it indeed will become a problem. MSDS's are about such exposures, e.g. for industrial workers who work with certain compounds every day. I would not worry at all in your case where you just had brief exposure a limited number of times.

jesse13359 - 16-8-2016 at 02:02

Thanks that really helps :)

j_sum1 - 16-8-2016 at 02:03

My mistake. I misread. I will edit my comment accordingly.

Rhodanide - 16-8-2016 at 09:35

I've heard that lava lamps contain CCl4. I was gonna try and see if I could get some out but I think not now...

Metacelsus - 16-8-2016 at 10:13

Carbon tetrachloride is quite hepatotoxic (and even more so if you drink alcohol). (See

battoussai114 - 16-8-2016 at 11:26

Quote: Originally posted by Metacelsus  
Carbon tetrachloride is quite hepatotoxic (and even more so if you drink alcohol). (See

Yeah, but it's still a quite useful solvent. If he's equipped with a good fume hood there is no reason he shouldn't work with it, the smell threshold is withing the permissible exposure limits.

Dr.Bob - 17-8-2016 at 11:04

I have used DCM and DCE for years, and nothing important has fallen off or grown new on me. I have gotten older, grayer and fatter, but I can't blame for the DCE for that. If you drank it, I would worry, but minor contact is not a problem. My friend Ed worked with horrible chemicals for 70+ years and is now 92 and doing better than most people I know. Apparently, fluorine makes you more inert to bad things. Years ago, people worked daily with much worse compounds, I would not worry about chemicals unless they are both really bad and you work with them a lot. The government has made most people so afraid of chemicals, but they all think plants, supplements, and natural things are great for you. They are not well aware of aflitoxin, digitalis, or botulism, just to name a few things.

jesse13359 - 17-8-2016 at 23:19

Your post actually made me laugh, haha. It is certainly good to hear that this is something not to worry about, thank you all :)
(and I guess a little bit of exposure every now and then is inevitable as a chemist...I can't imagine any colleage not having ever spilled anything at all ;P )

evildrome - 1-9-2016 at 06:08

Crap.... 30 years ago I used to wash my hands with DCM.

Having said that, I appear to be fit and well... so far..

arkoma - 20-9-2016 at 12:54

Heck, when I was a kid, one of my "chores" was painting our three board fence twice a year with creosote. I had a paint roller with a daggum 10 foot handle but would still get it all over me. Talk about chemical BURNS. Parents would tell me to suck it up and be more careful.

Creosote contaminated areas now are frickin superfund eligible linky

53 years old, and to quote Dr. Bob " nothing important has fallen off or grown new on me".