Nitrates (NO3 – one nitrogen and three oxygen molecules) are compounds that occur naturally in soil. Consequently, nitrates are also present naturally in root vegetables like carrots and potatoes, as well as leafy green vegetables. Nitrates are not generally harmful unless they are consumed in massive quantities. When we eat nitrates, they are converted into nitrites in our digestive system.
Nitrites are also compounds made up of nitrogen and oxygen, but instead of three oxygen molecules, they have only two (NO2). Nitrite compounds combine with other elements like sodium and potassium to make sodium nitrite or potassium nitrite, which are used as preservatives and color fixatives in cured meats. Nitrites are particularly good at preventing botulism – an anaerobic form of bacteria that causes paralysis and death – which is why small amounts of sodium nitrite are required by law to be added to cured meats. Nitrites too, on their own and in moderation, are also generally not harmful.
Sodium nitrite, however, isn’t just a good food preservative, it’s also an excellent corrosion inhibitor. That’s why, when NTIC developed and commercialized the first-ever VCI rust preventative plastic packaging, the active chemical protection system was formulated using common food additives, including sodium nitrite. Conservative chemists generally do not recognize sodium nitrite itself as a vapor corrosion inhibitor because, on its own, it has a vapor pressure so low that it is almost immeasurable. When used in combination with other additives in proprietary ZERUST® formulations, sodium nitrite can be effective “VCI activated”. The ZERUST® VCI effectiveness has been proven in commercial and military applications worldwide, as well as scientifically by recognized standard test methods for vapor corrosion inhibitors used by U.S. and NATO military organizations.
Nitrites in VCI products are a commonly misunderstood safety concern because of the historic use of the specific compound, dicyclohexylamine nitrite (or dicyclohexylammonium nitrite). Sometimes referred to by the brand name “Dichan”, dicyclohexylamine nitrite is a vapor corrosion inhibitor that was first used in VCI paper production in the 1940’s. Later, in the 1970’s, toxicologists started to become aware that compounds using both amines and nitrites in combination could lead to the formation of “n-nitroso amines”, which are believed to be both carcinogenic and genotoxic. It is for this reason that VCI products produced in most advanced industrialized nations no longer use dicyclohexylamine nitrite. ZERUST® VCI packaging has never contained dicyclohexylamine nitrite and, furthermore, does not use amines of any kind because they are known to be skin and respiratory irritants.