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Dimethylamine is a colorless, flammable gas with an ammonia-like odor that is usually stored in 40% to 45% concentrations in water. It is used to make agrichemicals such as pesticides, in the production of rubber, and in some pharmaceuticals, as well as to manufacture tabun, a deadly nerve gas agent in a class with sarin and soman. Tabun was invented in Germany during World War II and stockpiled there in half a million artillery shells and over 100,000 aircraft-mounted bombs, but Germany lost the war to the Allies before the weapons could be deployed successfully.
Other uses for dimethylamine include its combination with benzyl chloride to make benzyldimethylamine for use as an accelerator in the manufacture of plastic epoxy resins and laminate plastics used in electrical components. Roughly one-third of the compound is used to make dimethylformamide, a common solvent used in the manufacture of pharmamceuticals, and dimethylacetamide, used in the manufacture of acrylic fiber and latex plastics. Estimates are that, as of 2011, about 25% of the dimethylamine manufactured is used in the municipal waste water treatment industry. It is also a component of surfactant wetting agents that lower the surface tension of water, is used in the manufacture of rocket fuel, and as a chemical component of some soaps. About 10% of global production is used as a precursor chemical for dimethylaminoethyl ethanol, which is a pigment preparation in polyurethane rubber.
Characteristics of dimethylamine include the fact that it is a known carcinogen, and, for this reason, it is banned for use in cosmetics products in the European Union. It can both burn the skin and be absorbed by it when it comes into contact, causing possible liver damage, and contact with the eyes can lead to permanent blindness. Its highly flammable and volatile nature leads to it being a useful solvent in many industries from photographic processing to leather tanning, so it is a common industrial chemical that must be handled with caution. As a health hazard, dimethylamine is recognized in the US to be an immunotoxicant, neurotoxicant, and respiratory toxicant, with detrimental effects also to the cardiovascular and blood systems of the body and gastrointestinal tract upon exposure.
Regions that produce the chemical include Mexico and the United States, India, and European nations. It is ranked in the US on federal air contaminant, hazardous substances, and toxic and explosives inventory lists. The US state of California also further classifies dimethylamine as a state occupational and health safety risk.