Ethanol is a strongly-smelling, volatile, flammable liquid – so yes, the short answer is that ethanol is hazardous! Ethanol was first discovered as a by-product of fermenting alcohol, has been used in chemistry since the 1850s, and due to its versatility is now widely used in industry and homes around the world.
Despite being common and having myriad uses, ethanol is a hazardous chemical and should be treated with care.
Hazards Of Ethanol
There are a number of reasons why ethanol is hazardous:
Ethanol Is Flammable
Ethanol and its vapour are highly flammable, so it’s important to know its flash points. The vapour can catch fire at 13 °C and is easily ignited by heat or sparks. When mixed with air the vapour is explosive, and can travel to the ignition point and flash back. It can spread along the ground and collect in compact areas such as tanks, and is a hazard both indoors and outdoors. Additionally, if containers of ethanol are heated there is a possibility they will explode. When heated until it burns, ethanol gives off acrid smoke and fumes.
Ethanol Can Be Lethal When Consumed
Ethanol is not fit for human consumption in its pure form, even though it is consumed in alcoholic drinks. If it is drunk in its pure form, it can be lethal or cause coma. It also causes organ damage, irritate mucous membranes, and ongoing research suggests it may be a carcinogen.
Skin, Eye & Internal Irritations
Exposure to ethanol by breathing in vapours or contact with skin can cause local irritation. Contact with your eyes can cause immediate stinging pain, but may not cause a serious injury.
Safety Guidelines For Handling Ethanol
In an industrial context it’s important to follow safety guidelines when handling ethanol. Protective clothing should be worn, such as:
- Rubber gloves
- Industrial aprons
- Safety glasses
- Face mask
At home, it’s equally important to make sure that you and anyone else aren’t exposed to ethanol. You can do this by:
- Using small amounts of ethanol
- Making sure the room is well ventilated
- Ensuring there are no naked flames nearby
What To Do If You’re Exposed To Ethanol
If you are exposed to ethanol in one of the ways we’ve looked at – ingestion, inhalation or skin contact – you need to take immediate steps to limit any ill-effects.
Ingestion – lie down and contact the emergency services straight away. Do not try and vomit as it can damage mucous membranes and organs. Do not drink anything.
Inhalation – get into fresh air as soon as possible and contact the emergency services for help. Inhalation of ethanol vapours can make you feel drowsy so do get out of the vapours quickly.
Skin contact – wash your skin gently with soap and warm water. Seek medical assistance if the irritation persists.
Eye contact – flush your eyes for at least 15 minutes and contact the emergency services.
Safe Storage Of Ethanol In Industry
Ethanol is a corrosive chemical and on an industrial level should be kept in stainless steel containers. You should also ensure that any pipes, as well as the container, are not susceptible to corrosion by ethanol. Tanks should have secondary containment, be fire rated and resistant to impact. It is preferable to store ethanol in tanks above ground rather than below ground.
Although ethanol is a common chemical, it is hazardous. Take care when you’re handling it.
At ReAgent, we sell ethanol in sizes ranging from 500ml to 2.5 litres. If you have a requirement for ethanol, contact our team today.
The blog on chemicals.co.uk and everything published on it is provided as an information resource only. The blog, its authors and affiliates accept no responsibility for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from following the information provided on this website. We do not recommend using any chemical without first consulting the Material Safety Data Sheet which can be obtained from the manufacturer and following the safety advice and precautions on the product label. If you are in any doubt about health and safety issues please consult the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).