Ethyl chloride is used as a chemical intermediate, in solvents, aerosols, and anaesthesia. Currently, chloroethane is largely used as a blowing agent in foamed plastics. In the past, chloroethane was used in the production of tetraethyl lead, an anti-knock additive to leaded gasoline. Chloroethane has also been used in the production of ethyl cellulose and for miscellaneous applications including use as a solvent, for phosphorus, sulfur, fats, oils, resins and waxes; in insecticides; and as an ethylating agent in the manufacture of dyes and drugs, refrigerant, and topical anaesthetic and use in the manufacture of dyes, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. Other uses of chloroethane are as a pulp vitality tester in dentistry, as a medication to alleviate pain associated with insect burns and stings, as an adjunct in the treatment of tinea lesions and creeping eruptions, and as a counterirritant for relief of myofacial and visceral pain syndromes. Chloroethane is also used as a solvent, as a refrigerant, and in the production of ethyl cellulose, dyes, medicinal drugs, and other commercial chemicals. It is also used to numb skin prior to medical procedures such as ear piercing and skin biopsy, and in sports injuries.
Substance name: Chloroethane (ethyl chloride)
CASR number: 75-00-3
Molecular formula: C2H5CL
Synonyms: ethane, dublofix, chloroether, chloratus, ether hydrochloric, ether muriatic, ethyl chloride, HSDB 533, hydrochloric ether, kelene, monochlorethane, muriatic ether, narcotile, NCI-CO6224, NCI-c06224, UN 1037
Ethyl chloride is a colourless flammable gas at ordinary temperature and pressure. It has a characteristic ether-like odour and a burning taste.
Boiling Point: 12.3°C
Melting Point: -138.7°C
Vapour Density: 2.22
Specific Gravity: 0.9214 at 0°C
Vapour Pressure: 1000 mm Hg at 20°C
Ethyl chloride is a flammable gas at ordinary temperature and pressure and a mobile volatile liquid below 12°C or/and increased pressure. Chloroethane burns with a smoky, greenish flame, which results is a result of the production of hydrogen chloride. It reacts violently with oxidants, alkaline metals, calcium, magnesium, aluminium powder, and zinc. It reacts with water or steam producing corrosive fumes of hydrogen chloride.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of chloroethane emissions in Australia.
Ethyl chloride is mildly irritating to the eyes and lungs. The acute (short-term) effects of chloroethane from inhalation exposure in humans consists of temporary feelings of drunkenness. Higher levels cause lack of muscle coordination and unconsciousness. Accidental death has resulted from its former medical use as an anaesthetic during major surgery. Death appears to be caused by effects on the heart, lungs, and central nervous system.
The chronic (long-term) health effects resulting from exposure to air containing chloroethane in humans is not known. Some animal studies indicate changes to the lungs, liver, and kidneys.
Rapid evaporation of the liquid may cause frostbite with skin contact.
Entering the body
Sources of possible chloroethane exposure include the inhalation of contaminated air and ingestion of contaminated drinking water or food (probably at very low levels) or by contact with the skin.
Exposure is primarily by using or being exposed to products that contain chloroethane.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standard for chloroethane through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants:
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 1000 parts per million (2640 mg/m3)
These standards are only appropriate for use in workplaces and are not limited to any specific industry or operation. Make sure you understand how to interpret the standards before you use them.
Drinking water guidelines
There is no guideline for chloroethane in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
Acute toxic effects may include the death of animals, birds, or fish, and death or low growth rate in plants. Chloroethane has slight acute toxicity to aquatic life. It has caused respiration and germination increases in potatoes. Insufficient data are available to evaluate or predict the short term effects of ethylchloride to birds or land animals. Chronic toxic effects may include shortened lifespan, reproductive problems, lower fertility, and changes in appearance or behaviour.
Entering the environment
The majority of chloroethane is present as a gas or vapour and so is transported by air. Wash out by rain and fog is possible, however, any chloroethane which is removed in this way will probably quickly evaporate. About 99.8% of Chloroethane will eventually end up in air; the rest will end up in the water. It does not tend to bioaccumulate.
Where it ends up
Most of the chloroethane released to the environment ends up as a gas in the atmosphere, while much smaller amounts enter groundwater as a result of filtration through soil. Once in the atmosphere, chloroethane breaks down fairly rapidly by reaction with other chemicals in the air. It takes about 1 to 2 months for any given amount of chloroethane that is released to the atmosphere to disappear.
No national guidelines.
Point sources include release from factories that manufacture or use chloroethane, evaporation from some landfills, solvents, refrigerants, and anaesthetics, release in fumes from the burning of plastics and other materials and spills from shipping accidents.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
The limited amount of information available about chloroethane in drinking water suggests that extremely low levels of chloroethane may be expected in some drinking water supplies because of formation during chlorination, contamination, or seepage into groundwater following storage of chemical wastes or disposal at waste sites.
Ethyl chloride has also been shown to be formed through microbial degradation of other chlorinated solvents in soil systems.
It is not expected to be directly associated with mobile equipment.
May be present in foamed plastics, some pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, some solvents and refrigerants. It has also been used in sports injury sprays and anaesthetics for ear and body piercing.
Sources used in preparing this information
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (accessed, June 1999)
- Chemfinder (accessed, June 1999)
- Environmental Defence Fund (accessed, June 1999)
- Environmental Writer Chemical Backgrounders (accessed, June 1999)
- International Chemical Safety Cards (WHO/IPCS/ILO) (accessed, June 1999)
- National Environment Protection Council (1998), National Environment Protection Measure for the National Pollutant Inventory. (accessed, March, 1999)
- New Jersey (accessed, June 1999)
- Technical Advisory Panel (1999), Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- US Integrated Risk Information System (accessed, June 1999)
- US National Toxics Program (accessed, June 1999)
- US Toxic Release Inventory Toxis Chemicals Factsheet (accessed, June 1999)
- Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, accessed June 2021.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated October 2017, accessed May 2018