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NDEA – toxicity, side effects, diseases and environmental impacts

Saturday, December 02, 2017 by

NDEA is known by many names, but its correct and proper description is n-Nitrosodimethylamine. Older literature on the subject lists the compound as NDMA, emphasizing the methyl group rather than the ethyl conjunction. Either way is perfectly acceptable, although it is preferred to use NDEA for newer research.

NDEA is a yellow liquid with no odor. It was primarily used to manufacture rocket fuel but was discontinued roughly two decades ago when scientists discovered NDEA to be extremely toxic both to the environment and to human health. Today, NDEA is produced only in small amounts and only for research purposes. Some cosmetic and toiletry products contain minute amounts of NDEA, but these are being phased out gradually in an excess of caution.

List of known side effects

NDEA is deadly. It is toxic if swallowed and can cause cancer. Scientists have noted that the ingestion of a mere 40 grams of the substance can be fatal in small animals such as mice and rabbits. An average-sized human, on the other hand, can collapse into a coma.

Similarly, NDEA is corrosive to soft tissue. Take this very seriously. NDEA is not a known irritant but it can produce transient discomfort and tearing of the cornea (similar to a windburn). This is applicable to skin damage as well. Direct contact to NDEA will not necessarily produce an immediate response but prolonged exposure can cause damage to the dermis. Take note though that should NDEA enter the bloodstream through an open cut or abrasion, more severe consequences can be met. Be extremely cautious when handling the product.

Body systems affected by NDEA

NDEA is not an insidious chemical – it is a little garish in its attack strategy. The chemical directly targets the liver and kidneys, fluctuating balance, and forcing the organs to shut down. Repeated and prolonged exposure to the liquid will eventually lead to organ death. This will then cause the shutdown of other organs.

Items that can contain NDEA

There is a movement to decrease the amount of NDEA in various products. However, previous production of the chemical has led to a worrisome amount of NDEA still present in the soil, water, and in older cosmetic products. A large percentage of waste products (in landfills, for example) contain high amounts of NDEA. Some items that may also contain NDEA are older formulations of chewing tobacco, toiletry and cosmetic products, and various household goods such as detergents and pesticides. It is best to look at the ingredients list to determine if an item contains NDEA.

People who work with pesticides and herbicides have a higher likelihood of being exposed to NDEA, whether they realize it or not. Other susceptible career choices are those involved in tanneries, rubber and tire manufacturing, and dye or alkylamine manufacturing.

How to avoid NDEA

Unfortunately, there is no exact way to completely avoid NDEA. The best way to limit your exposure is to use newer toiletry products (preferably those made from organic sources) and to avoid landfills or farms regularly exposed to pesticides or herbicides.

Where to learn more


NDEA is a yellow liquid that was used quite often in the past for various products. However, it has been noted to be extremely toxic to the environment and to human health. While many health groups have pushed for industries to discontinue NDEA’s use, there is still a risk of being exposed to the chemical.

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