1,2-Dibromoethane (EDB) is a pesticide and gasoline additive. It is mostly man-made, but it may occur naturally in the ocean in very small amounts. In the 1970s and early 1980s, it was used in soil to kill insects and worms that get on fruits, vegetables, and grain crops. It was also used in soil to protect grass, such as on golf courses. Another use was to kill fruit flies on citrus fruits, mangoes, and papayas after they were picked. EPA stopped most of these uses in 1984. EDB was added to leaded gasoline to produce better fuel efficiency. Because use of leaded gasoline has fallen, less EDB is made for this use. The chemical is a colorless liquid with a mild, sweet odor. It evaporates easily and can dissolve in water. EDB stays in groundwater and in soil for a long time but breaks down quickly in the air.
Structural diagram: National Institutes of Health
You can be exposed to EDB in the air near production plants. Background levels in the environment are very low. The air most people breathe contains between 0.01 and 0.06 parts of EDB per billion parts of air (ppb). Because EDB easily evaporates, most surface waters do not contain detectable amounts. Groundwater is more likely to contain EDB with an average concentration of about 0.9 ppb. In foods, EDB has recently been found in 2 out of 549 samples at concentrations of 2 and 11 ppb. There is no information on background levels in surface water or soil. If you applied EDB on a farm or golf course, if you worked to pack fruits gassed with EDB, or if you worked in a factory that made EDB, you could be exposed to much higher than background levels.
EDB can enter your body after you eat or drink contaminated food and water. It can also enter your body through your skin when you bathe or swim in contaminated water. The EDB inside tiny soil particles may enter your body if you crush or eat contaminated soil. The chemical can enter your nose and lungs when you breathe air that contains EDB or when you shower with water that is contaminated. Near hazardous waste sites or near areas that once were farmed, the most likely way that you will be exposed is by drinking contaminated groundwater. EDB will be rapidly taken into your bloodstream by any method of exposure. Most of it builds up in your liver and kidneys where it is rapidly broken down to different substances. These substances leave your body quickly in the urine, and smaller amounts are passed in liver bile into the stool. Small amounts of EDB that are not broken down can be breathed out of your lungs.
The effects of breathing high levels of EDB in humans are unknown. Studies in animals show that they can die from breathing high concentrations of EDB for a short time while lower concentrations can cause liver and kidney damage. You can die if you swallow or have skin contact with large quantities of EDB. A woman who drank 40 milliliters (ml) of pure liquid EDB died within a day. Changes in the liver and kidney are reported in humans that died of ingestion of EDB. People who tried to commit suicide by swallowing concentrated EDB got ulcers inside their mouth and stomach. Laboratory rats and mice fed less-concentrated EDB for as little as 2 weeks had damage to the lining of their stomach. If you spill liquid EDB on your skin, you can get blisters.
Breathing EDB for moderately long periods damages the lining of the nose in rats. This effect has not been seen in humans. Animals that breathed or ate food containing EDB for short or long periods were less fertile or had abnormal sperms. Changes in the brain and behavior have occurred in young rats whose male parents had breathed EDB.
A worker who breathed EDB for several years developed bronchitis, headache, and depression, but his health improved after he stopped breathing air contaminated with EDB. EDB is not known to cause birth defects in people. It can impair reproduction in males by damaging sperms in testicles. This type of damage has been seen in workers exposed to EDB for several years. Pregnant animals that are sick from exposure to EDB have had pups with birth defects. There are no reports of cancer in workers or other people exposed to EDB for several years. Rats and mice that repeatedly breathed, swallowed, or had skin contact with EDB for long periods had cancer in many organs. The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that EDB may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.
Information excerpted from:
Toxicological Profile for 1,2-Dibromoethane May 1992