Ethylene Glycol Inhalation
Health Effects

Ethylene glycol is used as an antifreeze in heating and cooling systems, in hydraulic brake fluids, as a solvent in paints and plastics, as a softening agent for cellophane, in inks, synthetic fibers and waxes, etc.

Typically when considering toxicity, we think about ingestion of ethylene glycol - usually as antifreeze. It is a sweet tasting liquid that can be attractive to small animals or children. Its chief hazard is when large quantities are ingested in a single dose. Initially individuals appear to be drunk. Within days they can have heart, lung, and kidney problems that can be quite severe. One hundred cc’s (3.3 oz) is considered a lethal human oral dose for humans, although individuals have survived doses of up to 2000 cc’s.

It is usually not a skin irritant except in more allergic individuals. Direct contact with the liquid can cause absorption through the skin.

Inhaled poisoning of ethylene glycol usually only occurs when the liquid is heated because at room temperature very little of this liquid vaporizes. It is typically odorless, but when burned gives of acrid and irritant fumes. Chronic very high inhaled exposure has been shown to cause involuntary rapid eye movements, and short losses of consciousness. Typically repeated exposures to the irritant fumes cause eye irritation, headache, throat irritation, and cough. In an investigation where twenty prisoners were accidentally exposed to daily concentrations of 1-26 PPM of aerosolized ethylene glycol their blood levels were detectable, but serious signs of ethylene glycol intoxication were absent. Pharyngeal irritation was common. Headache and low backache were reported occasionally.

  • 25 PPM - male volunteers unaware of effects
  • 50 PPM - sweet taste and irritation of throat noticed
  • 75 PPM - exposure intolerable.
  • 4000 PPM - lowest published toxic concentration for a human via the inhalation route.

PEL - TWA = 50 PPM
PEL - STEL = none set

Volatilized ethylene glycol has a half life of about a day.

Ethylene glycol in water will biodegrade in about 3 days.

HAZMAT Recommendations: no specific HAZMAT Response recommendation have been proposed for this agent.

No NIOSH Respirator Selection recommendation have been established.

1 PPM = 2.5 mg/m3 the maximum allowable amount over a full work day OSHA standard.
The MSHA allows 50 PPM maximum allowable amount over 15 minutes

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