EDTA is a widely used abbreviation for the chemical compound ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (and many other names, see table). EDTA refers to the chelating agent with the formula (HO2CCH2)2NCH2CH2N(CH2CO2H)2. This amino acid is widely used to sequester di- and trivalent metal ions (Ca2+ and Mg2+ for example). EDTA binds to metals via four carboxylate and two amine groups. EDTA forms especially strong complexes with Mn(II), Cu(II), Fe(III), Pb (II) and Co(III).
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EDTA is mostly synthesised from 1,2-diaminoethane (ethylenediamine), formaldehyde (methanal), water and sodium cyanide. This yields the tetra sodium salt, which can be converted into the acidic forms by acidification. Pioneering work on the development of EDTA was undertaken by Gerold Schwarzenbach in the 1940s.
EDTA exists in different standard forms under different conditions. At very low pH or very acidic condition (fully protonated) H6Y+2 forms exist while at very high pH or very basic condition (fully deprotonated) Y-4 forms are prevalent.
To describe EDTA and its various protonated forms, chemists use a more cumbersome but more precise acronym that distinguishes between EDTA4−, the conjugate base that is the ligand, and H4EDTA, the precursor to that ligand.