Butanone is a manufactured organic chemical. It is a
colorless liquid with a sharp, sweet butterscotch odor
reminiscent of acetone. It is a ketone, also known as
methyl ethyl ketone (MEK).
Butanone is produced in large quantities. Nearly half
of it is used in paints and other coatings because it
will quickly evaporate. It dissolves many substances
and is used as a solvent in processes involving gums,
resins, cellulose acetate and nitrocellulose coatings
and in vinyl films. It is also used in the synthetic
rubber industry, It is used in manufacturing plastics,
textiles, in the production of paraffin wax, and in
household products such as lacquer, varnishes, paint
remover, a denaturing agent for denatured alcohol,
glues and as a cleaning agent. MEK is also used in dry
erase markers as the solvent of the erasable dye. It
is used for synthesis of methyl ethyl ketone peroxide,
a catalyst for some polymerization reactions. It is
highly flammable. It is not considered a large health
Butanone occurs as a natural product. It is made by
some trees and found in some fruits and vegetables in
small amounts. It is also released to the air from car
and truck exhausts.
The known health effects to people from exposure to
butanone are slight irritation of the nose, throat,
skin, and eyes. There are no known cases of any humans
dying from breathing butanone alone. It is basically
harmless. However, if butanone is breathed along with
other chemicals that damage health, it can increase
the amount of damage that occurs.
Serious health effects in animals have been seen only
at very high levels. When breathed, these effects
included birth defects (Schwetz et al. 1991. Fund.
Appl. Toxicol. 16:742-748), loss of consciousness, and
death. When swallowed, rats had nervous system effects
including drooping eyelids and uncoordinated muscle
movements. There was no damage to the ability to
reproduce. Mice who breathed low levels for a short
time showed temporary behavioral effects. Mild kidney
damage was seen in animals that drank water with low
levels of butanone for a short time.
There are no long-term studies with animals either
breathing or drinking butanone.
Methyl ethyl ketone is listed as a Table II precursor
under the United Nations Convention Against Illicit
Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
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