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What Is Triethylenetetramine?

Maggie J. Hall
Maggie J. Hall

Triethylenetetramine (TETA) is composed of four ethyleneamines. TETA is an oily liquid, with an odor similar to ammonia. The organic compound is naturally colorless until undergoing air-oxidation, which has a yellowing effect. Industries ranging from asphalt to textile manufacture incorporate the corrosive compound for its binding and chelating properties. Physicians also use TETA for the treatment of Wilson disease.

The four amines that make up triethylenetetramine include a form of TETA, bis AEP, PEEDA, and a branched TETA. Chemists know bis AEP as bis (2-aminoethyl)amine plus (2-amineothyl)piperazine. PEEDA refers to the chemical substance NE [(2-aminethyl 2-aminoethyl) piperazine], and the branched TETA is tris-(2-aminoethyl)amine.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In a field called coordination chemistry, chemists refer to triethylenetetramine as a trien. The substance has the ability to bind to two metal atoms, forming a coordinated complex. Chemical industries create TETA by heating ethylenediamine or ethanolamine/ammonia compounds over an oxide catalyst. The final product contains a collection of amines that are separated through distillation and sublimation, which is the conversion of a solid material directly into a gas.

Asphalt manufacturers use triethylenetetramine because the chemical reaction that occurs with other constituents of the product improves the overall properties of the asphalt for road conditions. When added to manmade or natural fabrics, the substance enhances dye absorption and adhesion along with imparting anti-static and flame retardant properties. Construction materials, which include epoxies and other adhesives, may contain TETA because the chemical’s binding properties allow the hardening, or curing, of these materials. Triethylenetetramine also acts as a surfactant in detergents and shampoos.

Automotive and marine fuels and oils often contain triethylenetetramine as an additive that prevents deposit formation in engine parts. The compound is also found in industrial cleaners and preservatives because of its ability to bind potentially harmful metals and neutralize calcium. Manufacturers incorporate TETA into the materials that are used to create the casings for household electronics. The formulation ensures a fire retarding, lightweight, but strong product.

Physicians may prescribe triethylenetetramine as first line treatment for patients suffering from Wilson disease. The condition involves abnormal accumulations of copper in the body and results in multiple-organ symptoms and failure. TETA chelates, or binds, to the copper and transports the metal out of the body through the kidneys. Physicians also use TETA in patients who are intolerant or unresponsive to traditional pencillamine treatment. Possible adverse effects of triethylenetetramine include iron deficiency anemia, as the chemical also binds to and removes iron.

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