January 14, 2019
I’ve been used as a murder weapon.
What molecule am I?

N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) is a highly toxic, potentially carcinogenic liquid. It is synthesized by the reaction of dimethylamine or one of its salts with sodium or potassium nitrite.

NDMA has several industrial uses; the most common is as a precursor to the rocket fuel 1,1-dimethylhydrazine (1,1-DMH). It is found in the waste products of some industrial syntheses, including that of 1,1-DMH; in cured meat and fish; and in chlorinated nitrogen-rich wastewater.

NDMA’s high solubility in water and other solvents has led to its use in intentional poisonings that date back to 1973. In the most recent occurrence (2018), a graduate student at Queen’s University (Kingston, ON) dissolved NDMA in ethanol and added it to the food of a fellow student.

The victim experienced several unpleasant symptoms (e.g., diarrhea and vomiting); but unlike most NDMA victims, he survived. He says that he will always live in fear of developing cancer from the poisoning.

N-Nitrosodimethylamine hazard information

GHS classification*: flammable liquids, category 4
H227—Combustible liquid
GHS classification*: acute toxicity, oral, category 2
H300—Fatal if swallowed Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: acute toxicity, inhalation, category 1
H330—Fatal if inhaled Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: carcinogenicity, category 1B
H350—May cause cancer Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: specific target organ toxicity, repeated exposure, category 1
H372—Causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: hazardous to the aquatic environment, acute hazard, category 2
H401—Toxic to aquatic life
GHS classification: hazardous to the aquatic environment, long-term hazard, category 2
H411—Toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects Chemical Safety Warning

*Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Explanation of pictograms.

fast facts

CAS Reg. No. 62-75-9
Empirical formula C2H6N2O
Molar mass 74.08 g/mol
Appearance Yellow oily liquid
Boiling point 153 ºC
Water solubility 290 g/L

MOTW update: September 21, 2020

N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) is used to make rocket fuel; but, because it is extremely toxic, it is notorious for its use in some fatal poisonings. NDMA and other nitrosamines have been found as impurities in several prescription drugs. Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines on acceptable limits of six nitrosamine impurities. The limit set for NDMA is 96 ng/day.

Chemical Abstract Service - a division of ACS

Learn more about this molecule from CAS, the most authoritative and comprehensive source for chemical information.

Molecule of the Week needs your suggestions!

If your favorite molecule is not in our archive, please send an email to motw@acs.org. The molecule can be notable for its current or historical importance or for any quirky reason. Thank you!

Stay Ahead of the Chemistry Curve

Learn how ACS can help you stay ahead in the world of chemistry.