What is chloroethane and what does it do to you?

Following the death of Pop Idol star Darius Campbell Danesh after inhaling chloroethane, what is the substance, and what are its effects?

The singer and actor was found dead in his US apartment in Minnesota last month, with autopsy documents listing “toxic effects of chloroethane” and “suffocation” as having contributed to the 41-year-old’s death.

A statement released by his family said: “The results of medical examinations have confirmed that Darius’ death was an accident caused by chloroethane, which is used to treat pain and that tragically led to respiratory arrest. Darius was suffering from chronic neck pain following a car accident in 2010.”

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Chloroethane, commonly known as ethyl chloride, is a colourless, flammable gas or refrigerated liquid with a faintly sweet odour.

It’s described as a strong alkylating agent used in gasoline additives, plastics, dyes, pharmaceuticals, topical anaesthetics, and as an industrial refrigerant, and is said to have became popular as an inhalant street drug in the 1980s. In Brazil, it is a major component of an illegal drug taken during Carnaval, known locally as "lança-perfume".

Brief inhalations of the drug can result in dizziness, euphoria, confusion, a lack of co-ordination, hallucinosis, hampered short-term memory, and narcosis. Inhalation of higher doses may be related to severe depression of the central nervous system while it can also damage the liver and kidneys.

Toxic over-exposure starts at 9 per cent to 12 per cent concentrations, breathing its vapours at more than 15 per cent concentration is often fatal, and the substance has been known to cause frostbite by coming into direct contact with skin.

A statement released by Darius Campbell Danesh’s family said his death was an accident caused by chloroethane, which is used to treat pain and 'tragically led to respiratory arrest.' Picture: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images.
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