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Published on Aug 31, 2016
Ethylene oxide is an organic compound (with the formula C2H4O). According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), ethylene oxide (EtO) is produced in large volumes and is primarily used as an intermediate in the production of several industrial chemicals, the most notable of which is ethylene glycol. It is also used as a fumigant in certain agricultural products and as a sterilant for medical equipment and supplies.
OSHA reports that EtO possesses several physical and health hazards that merit special attention. It is both flammable and highly reactive. Acute exposures to EtO gas may result in respiratory irritation and lung injury, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and cyanosis. Both human and animal studies show that EtO is a carcinogen that may cause leukemia and other cancers. EtO is also linked to spontaneous abortion, genetic damage, nerve damage, peripheral paralysis, muscle weakness, as well as impaired thinking and memory.
Due to these concerns, workplace exposures to ethylene oxide in the United States are addressed in specific standards for general industry, shipyard employment and the construction industry. The OSHA EtO standard requires employers to conduct personal monitoring unless they are specifically exempt.
OSHA has developed a Fact Sheet to help educate workers and employers about exposure hazards associated with ethylene oxide. The document states that employers should train and communicate information to affected workers, utilize engineering controls and work practices to control exposures, provide personal protective equipment, and take other health and safety measures.
These are just a few things to know about occupational exposure concerns to ethylene oxide. To learn more about this or other health and safety, occupational, environmental or air quality issues, please visit the websites shown below.