Ethyl Acetate Intoxication?

Ethyl acetate is a small organic molecule used as a solvent in paints, varnishes, glues, and other consumer products. It has an intense fruity-sweet smell that can burn the nose if too strong. Notably less toxic than acetone, which it has fairly recently supplanted as the standard solvent in nail polish remover, ethyl acetate is rapidly and very completely hydrolyzed in the body to produce acetic acid and ethanol which, as my sophomore organic instructor pointed out, is like having a salad and a beer.

So given that EtOAc, as organic chemists abbreviate it, turns into vinegar and alcohol in the body, would it be safe to use as an alcohol replacement? An untaxed and unregulated source of drunkeness? As a man of age and at least modest wealth, my interest is only academic; I could get Everclear if I wanted to buy it. I'm just curious: Are there street kids somewhere who drink nail polish remover to get drunk? The one fatal case of ethyl acetate exposure I could find in the literature (For Sci Int, 154(2005) 92-95) involved a worker, standing over a tank full of it, who passed out from the fumes and fell in. His body was found at the bottom the next day, and even after pickling in the stuff overnight there was still 50 times more ethanol in his blood than there was ethyl acetate. An MSDS from a notable manufacturer of ethyl acetate lists the substance as an inhalation hazard due to the risk of anoxia (i.e. you can suffocate if there's so much EtOAc in the air you can't get oxygen) without known or expected carcinogenicity, and as safe to handle without gloves. It is flammable, of course, but then so is ethanol.

Unlike ethanol, of course, EtOAc is not infinitely soluble in water. But it is sufficiently so (about 10% by volume) to make esterwine or esterbeer that should be approximately as potent as its ethanolic counterpart. Without any rigorous studies demonstrating the safety of such a procedure, I would not like to see anyone try it as a result of reading this. But I am curious enough that I might someday try it myself using ultrapure laboratory solvent as a precaution against trace nasties.

1 comment:

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