Hazard Watch: Amines in the workplace

From the agrochemical and pesticide sector to the pharmaceuticals market and dyes for the textile business, amines are integral to both the core and the by-products of these industries.

Amines are derivatives of ammonia (NH3) and are produced when one or more hydrogen atoms have been replaced by a hydrocarbon group. The amine class of compounds serve a wide array of practical applications across several industries.

Amines are used as solvents, intermediates, catalysts, emulsifiers, stabilizers, and scrubbing agents in various industries, such as manufacturing polyurethane, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, polymers and other chemicals. They are also used in the production of polyurethane products, such as insulation materials used in construction, packing and rubber industries.


Exposure to amines in the workplace

The symptoms of exposure to amines vary in severity, but inhaling amine vapours can typically cause irritation in the nose, throat, and lungs, causing shortness of breath and coughing. In extreme cases, amines can also cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Amine vapour can also lead to blurred vision, a blue-grey appearance of objects and halos around lights, after just 30 minutes of exposure. This condition is known as glaucopsia, and although temporary, it can increase the likelihood of accidents in the workplace and when driving home. Longer term exposure may result in chronic bronchitis and cause damage to the liver.

Reducing amine exposure

The distinctive ‘fishy’ and foul smell of amines often provides an early warning of their presence. If they are being used or produced during workplace activities, it is important that air sampling is undertaken regularly to ensure that they aren’t present at dangerous concentrations.

Within our state-of-the-art laboratories, we can offer both the sampling media and ion chromatography analysis for a range of amines commonly used in several industries. This includes our amine suite which gives results for levels of Ethanolamine, Methylamine, Diethylamine, Dimethylamine and Triethylamine in air, with a limit of detection of 1ug, and other amines are available upon request. We conduct all sampling for our amine analysis on SKC 226-10 Silica Gel tubes, that we provide free of charge.

The amine suite and how they are used

  • Ethanolamine, also known as 2-aminoethanol, is one of the raw materials used in the production of detergents, emulsifiers, polishes, pharmaceuticals, and many other chemical intermediates. EH40 states that it has workplace exposure limits (WELs) of 2.5 mg.m-3 for long-term and 7.6 mg.m-3 for short term exposure.
  • Methylamine is the simplest primary amine, consisting of ammonia and with a single methyl substituent, and as such provides the building block for the synthesis of a vast array of commercial chemical compounds. It has a pungent fishy odour and a boiling point of -6.3ºC so will vaporise readily when unconfined. These vapours are heavier than air and may collect in low-lying areas.
  • Diethylamine is used in the production of petroleum products, rubber resins, dyes, and pharmaceuticals. Like other low molecular weight amines, it has a strong ammonia odour. The long-term exposure limit for diethylamine is 15 mg.m-3 and the short-term exposure limit is 30 mg.m-3.
  • Dimethylamine is a precursor to many industrially significant compounds and is also a raw material used in producing agrichemicals and pharmaceuticals. The exposure limits outlined by the HSE are 3.8 mg.m-3 for long-term exposure and 11 mg.m-3 for short-term exposure.
  • Trimethylamine (TMA), the simplest tertiary amine, is used in the synthesis of choline, plant growth regulators, herbicides, dyes, and resins. Its gas is corrosive and dissolves in water to form flammable, corrosive solutions. Inhalation causes symptoms similar to other amines, while direct contact on skin can cause frostbite due to rapid evaporation.

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The only way to ensure amine levels are safe and below workplace exposure limits is by continued monitoring. Our amine analysis provides crucial information about the safety of your workplace and can assure you that your exposure controls are adequate, and that your employees are protected. We can also identify where improvements may need to be made.

Should you require any technical advice, support, or a quotation with regards to amine sampling and analysis, please don’t hesitate to contact our team:


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