I did many terrible things in the lab over the years. One of the earliest mishaps involved a beaker filled with thionyl chloride – about 250mL of it – that I spilled on myself. My advisor was standing next to me as this was happening – and in one instant motion he grabbed a 1 liter bottle of ethanolamine and poured it on me. A cloud of white smoke rose up, I ripped my clothes off and run for the shower. I suffered no burns from the incident.
From that time on, a friendly ethanolamine bottle has been sitting on the shelf in my lab. I later worked at a combichem company and accidental TFA splashes were a frequent occurrence there. Ethanolamine proved to be enormously useful in preventing TFA burns.
There are many corosive liquids that soak into skin and cause painful burns: acyl chlorides, alkylating agents, bromine, strong acids like HCl in dioxane. The problem is that water, bicarbonate and acetone washing has limited utility if the agent is allowed to soak in – the burn develops from within. But if one applies ethanolamine onto the affected area the amine soaks into skin and neutralizes the corrosive agent there without causing much additional damage. Unlike many amines, ethanolamine is non toxic – it is actually a building block of some phospholipids within cell membranes.
Ethanolamine is applied on the skin in undiluted form for about half a minute and is washed off with water. Afterwards it helps to put a lotion or ointment on the affected area because skin tends to get de-greased and reddened from ethanolamine. A sterile bandage is probably a good idea. Ethanolamine must not be used in or around the eyes. For HF burns, calcium gluconate in glycerin is more efficient since Ca(2+) can neutralise the toxic effects of fluoride.