Is EDTA biodegradable? (13 applications of EDTA) 

In this article, the biodegradability of EDTA shall be discussed. Other covered topics would be: 

  • What is EDTA 
  • How is EDTA made?
  • What are the health risks associated with EDTA?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Are there any green alternatives to EDTA?
  • FAQs

Is EDTA biodegradable?

No, EDTA is not biodegradable because it is synthesised in the lab and is non-natural. Non-natural products can not be degraded by the action of microbes and hence may remain in the environment for hundreds of years. 

EDTA is also harmful to the environment because of its ability to mobilise heavy metals. EDTA also may be harmful to human health while also being used in a multitude of industries. 

What is EDTA? (13 applications of EDTA) 

An introduction to EDTA is incumbent in order to build a stance on the biodegradability of EDTA. EDTA is also regarded as a chelating agent. 

A cheating agent is a molecule that has the capacity to have multiple bonds with single metal ions such as iron or calcium. 

EDTA is a chemical that binds certain metal ions. These metal ions can be calcium, lead or iron. Because of the binding capacity of EDTA, it has extensive uses in the medicinal and pharmaceutical industries. 

The next big question is what are the uses of EDTA. The binding property given off by EDTA is suitable in various applications that are linked to human health. Some of the common uses of EDTA include: 

  • EDTA is used to clean toxic metals because it can bind to metals 
  • EDTA is used in cancer-fighting medications 
  • EDTA can be used to clean the gastro-intestinal tract from metals 
  • EDTA can be used for detoxification 
  • EDTA can be used to treat diabetes, peripheral vascular diseases and also Alzheimer’s disease  
  • EDTA is used in the food industry as a preservative
  • EDTA is used cleaning agent as an additive 
  • EDTA is used to purify water 
  • EDTA is used in the textile industry 
  • EDTA is used in the pulp and paper industry 
  • EDTA is used in the beverage industry 

EDTA is an abbreviation that expands to Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. Studies have shown that the use of EDTA is not risk-free. Although there are a number of medical advantages given off by EDTA, there are also some risks that scientists are wary of. These include: 

  • Kidney damage
  • Loss of blood
  • Fever
  • Chills 
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Abnormal level of hormones
  • Abnormal level of calcium 
  • Affected heart functioning 

These are some of the adverse effects that may come with the use of EDTA as a chelating agent and therefore care must be done to ensure that these effects are avoided. 

How is EDTA made?

EDTA is an abbreviation that expands to Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid.

The structure of EDTA is important in understanding how it acts as a chelating agent. A chelating agent is a molecule that binds multiple bonds with single metal ios. 

EDTA is structured to be crystalline powder, usually white in colour. It has the capacity to form six bonds with metal ions and because of this, it is termed a hexadentate ligand. The word ‘hexa’ means six. 

EDTA can bind with calcium ions to form EDTA calcium disodium. This EDTA calcium disodium then can bind with other metal ions by the process of exchanging calcium ions with other metal ions. 

EDTA is a synthetic product and is synthesised in the lab. It is made from ethylenediamine, formaldehyde, and a source of cyanide such as HCN or NaCN. Generally, there are some options available regarding the formation of EDTA. These include: 

  • Single step synthesis 
  • Two-step Singer synthesis 
  • Munz synthesis 

It is claimed that a higher level of purity is achieved from the two-step singer synthesis because there is an additional step of purification and separation. 

What are the health risks associated with EDTA?

It has been established that EDTA is a chelating agent which is made in the lab. Since EDTA is a non-natural product, chances are that EDTA will have some unwanted side effects on the human body. 

We have already discussed the health complications that are linked to the use of EDTA. Here, we will delve into further details of the health risks associated with EDTA. 

It is proposed that the use of EDTA is safe in small prescribed amounts (less than 3 grams per day). However, when EDTA is used without consultation and in excessive amounts, it can lead to countless medical complications which can be toxic as well as fatal. 

Some common health issues associated with EDTA may be nausea, abnormal blood pressure, diarrhoea, fever and skin issues. 

EDTA may end up creating abnormal amounts of calcium in the blood. This is because of the calcium-binding ability of EDTA. EDTA forms six bonds with calcium ions to form EDTA calcium disodium. If unhealthy amounts of EDTA calcium disodium are formed, then it will alter the calcium levels found in the human body. 

EDTA is also linked to abnormal potassium amounts in the human body. This is because the EDTA calcium disodium can also link to potassium (by the exchange of metal ions). As a result, more potassium will leak out of the human body which will disrupt the body’s metabolism and functioning. 

EDTA is associated with damage to the liver and kidneys. This is because EDTA might chelate with agents that are essential for the proper working of the liver and kidneys. People with compromised liver and kidneys are advised to reduce or avoid the use of EDTA as the results may be fatal. 

Since EDTA might chelate with essential metal ions such as calcium, this can lead to abnormal levels of calcium in the body. This may increase the risk of seizures. 

EDTA is also linked to the increased occurrence of tuberculosis. This is because TB is caused by bacteria which are usually protected by the body with the help of scar tissues. Scar tissues act as a barrier between microbes and bacteria for the lungs. 

However, the scar tissues are made from calcium. If EDTA binds to the calcium found in scar tissue, this means that the protective wall against microbes may fall off leaving the lungs prone to microbes and TB. 

What is biodegradability?

The understanding of biodegradability is important in determining whether EDTA is biodegradable or not. 

Biodegradability, as the name implies, is the degradation that is brought about by the action of microbes. Microbes such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and decomposers have the ability to degrade the structure of complex materials. 

As a result, these complex materials become a part of nature again by being broken down into simpler materials. 

The concept and the process of biodegradability is important because it is the Earth’s own way of dealing with waste. It can be called a natural dustbin. 

If there is no biodegradability, there will be waste accumulation and toxicity. This waste will pollute nature and will disrupt every natural process. 

Biodegradability is mostly suited for natural substances such as plant-based products, animal-based products, waste from crops et cetera. The structures of these natural products align them with the degradative capacity given off by microbes. 

However, biodegradability is not compatible with the non-natural products that may be synthesised in the lab. This is because microbes are unable to break down the structures of these products. 

As a result, these products may persist in the environment for a very long time. Examples of these products include plastics, polymers, electronic waste, nuclear waste, waste from hospitals, hazardous waste et cetera. 

To further assert the importance of biodegradability, let us explore some of the detrimental impacts of non-biodegradable products on health and the environment. These include: 

  • Global warming
  • Deforestation 
  • Pollution
  • Loss of life
  • Habitat destruction
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of land 
  • Species endangerment 
  • Soil erosion 
  • Decreased yield 
  • Destruction of ecosystems 

That is why we need biodegradable products more than ever because already unsustainable amounts of waste are generated (more than 2 billion tons). If this waste is not degradable, it will have irreversible effects on life and the environment. 

Is EDTA biodegradable?

We have explored that natural substances are prone to the process of biodegradation whereas unnatural substances can not be degraded by the action of microbes. We have also seen that EDTA is made in the lab and is a non-natural product. 

In the light of these points, it can be said that EDTA is not biodegradable and may persist in the environment for hundreds of years. This is a matter of increased importance because non-biodegradable products are causing a lot of negative impacts already. 

As per studies, it is claimed that more than 40% of waste generated is not disposed of properly. This states that our world is already facing grave situations in terms of waste generation and waste disposal. 

The occurrence of non-biodegradable products will further exacerbate the situation many times because in this case, the waste generated will not be degraded for hundreds of years. Instead, for all those years, it will keep polluting our environment while raising grave health issues. 

Other than being non-biodegradable, EDTA also causes other environmental risks. They may be: 

  • Wastewater treatment complications
  • Pollution of groundwater
  • Aquatic ecosystem disruptions 
  • Mobilising heavy metals to natural ecosystems 
  • Alteration of food chains and food webs 
  • Negative effects on the soil and water systems due to mobilisation of heavy metals 

Are there any green alternatives to EDTA?

We have seen that there are various functions and applications of EDTA that earn its place in various industries including the textile, medicinal, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, beverage, and food industry. 

However, we have also seen that there are various negative impacts of EDTA on human health and the environment. Other than that, EDTA is also non-biodegradable and hence may persist in the environment for hundreds of years. 

Since EDTA is not eco-friendly, the next important question is: Is there any green alternative to EDTA? The answer is yes, there is. 

With the increased environmental concern, there are some green initiatives to curb the negative environmental impacts given off by EDTA. 

Among these initiatives there is Biopure GLDA which has the following advantages: 

  • Excellent chelating ability (no compromise on quality) 
  • Biodegradable
  • Excellent solubility 
  • Workable on a wide range of pH 

Other natural chelating agents found in nature may be:

  • Fulvic acid 
  • Kelp
  • Amino acid
  • Citric acid
  • Acetic acid
  • Ascorbic acid

These products have natural chelating abilities and must be considered by multiple industries as a green alternative to EDTA. 

Conclusion

It can be concluded that EDTA is not biodegradable because it is synthesised in the lab and is non-natural. Non-natural products can not be degraded by the action of microbes and hence may remain in the environment for hundreds of years. 

EDTA is also harmful to the environment because of its ability to mobilise heavy metals. EDTA also may be harmful to human health while also being used in a multitude of industries. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is EDTA biodegradable?

Is EDTA toxic?

If EDTA is consumed in more than the prescribed amount (3gms per day) it can be toxic and cause numerous health issues. 

Can EDTA be absorbed through the skin?

No, EDTA can not be absorbed through the skin. There is no risk in this regard. 

References

  • Sillanpää, M. (1997). Environmental fate of EDTA and DTPA. Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology, 85-111.
  • Sun, B., Zhao, F. J., Lombi, E., & McGrath, S. P. (2001). Leaching of heavy metals from contaminated soils using EDTA. Environmental pollution, 113(2), 111-120.
  • Oviedo, C., & Rodríguez, J. (2003). EDTA: the chelating agent under environmental scrutiny. Quimica Nova, 26, 901-905.
  • Miller, Kelli. (April 6, 2022). EDTA. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/edta-uses-and-risks

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