CAS No. 75-21-8
Ethylene oxide (C₂H₄O) is a flammable gas with a somewhat sweet odor. Exposure to ethylene oxide may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulty, drowsiness, weakness, exhaustion, eye and skin burns, frostbite, and reproductive effects. Workers may be harmed from exposure to ethylene oxide. The level of exposure depends upon the dose, duration, and work being done.
Ethylene oxide is used in many industries. It’s used to make ethylene glycol, a product used in antifreeze and polyester. Some examples of workers at risk of being exposed to ethylene oxide include the following:
- Factory workers in plants that use it to produce solvents, antifreeze, textiles, detergents, adhesives, and polyurethane foam
- Factory workers who work in plants that manufacture ethylene oxide
- Agricultural workers who use it to control insects in grain bins
- Hospital workers who use it to sterilize medical equipment and supplies
NIOSH recommends that employers use Hierarchy of Controls to prevent injuries. If you work in an industry that uses ethylene oxide, please read chemical labels and the accompanying Safety Data Sheets for hazard information. Visit NIOSH’s page on Managing Chemical Safety in the Workplace to learn more about controlling chemical workplace exposures.
The following resources provide information about occupational exposure to ethylene oxide. Useful search terms for ethylene oxide include “dimethylene oxide,” “1,2-epoxy ethane,” and “oxirane.”
The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (NPG) helps workers, employers, and occupational health professionals recognize and control workplace chemical hazards.
The NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM) is a collection of methods for sampling and analysis of contaminants in workplace air, and in the blood and urine of workers who are occupationally exposed.
The Health Hazard Evaluation Program (HHE) conducts onsite investigations of possible worker exposure to chemicals. Search the HHE database for more information on ethylene oxide.
- NIOSHTIC-2 search results for ethylene oxide—NIOSHTIC-2 is a searchable database of worker safety and health publications, documents, grant reports, and journal articles supported in whole or in part by NIOSH.
- NIOSH Worker Health Study Summary: Sterilization of Medical Instruments and Treatment of Spices (Ethylene oxide)—NIOSH conducts research to prevent illnesses and injuries in the workplace. The NIOSH Worker Notification Program notifies workers and other stakeholders about the findings of these research studies.
- Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) Value Profile: Ethylene oxide—NIOSH reviews relevant scientific data and researches methods for developing IDLH values.
- Ethylene oxide (No. 1614)—Sampling and measurement from NMAM, 4th
- Ethylene oxide by portable GC (No. 3702)—Sampling and measurement from NMAM, 4th
- Control Technology for Ethylene oxide Sterilization in Hospitals —DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 89-120 (1989). This report examines control methods and systems for Ethylene oxide sterilization in hospitals.
- Current Intelligence Bulletin No. 52: Ethylene oxide Sterilizers Health Care Facilities-Engineering Controls and Work Practices—DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 89-115 (1989). This publication discusses potential sources of EtO exposure and recommends protective measures that NIOSH researchers have observed to be effective in hospitals.
- Current Intelligence Bulletin No. 35: Ethylene Oxide (EtO)—DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 81-130 (1981). This report examines control methods and systems for Ethylene oxide sterilization in hospitals.
- NIOSH Alert: Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths From Explosions in Industrial Ethylene oxide Sterilization Facilities—DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2007-164. This Alert informs owners, managers, supervisors, engineers, safety professionals, and workers about the explosions, injuries, and deaths that may occur at industrial EtO sterilization facilities and repackaging plants, recommending steps for preventing these explosions.
- Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Ethylene Oxide—This guideline helps stakeholders conduct effective occupational safety and health programs.
- Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths from Explosions in Industrial Ethylene Oxide Sterilization Facilities (Revised Edition)—DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2007-164 (2007). This Alert informs owners, managers, supervisors, engineers, safety professionals, and workers about the explosions, injuries, and deaths that may occur at industrial EtO sterilization facilities and repackaging plants. Steps are recommended for preventing these explosions.
- ATSDR Medical Management Guidelines (MMGs): Ethylene Oxide
- ATSDR – ToxFAQs: Ethylene Oxide
- ATSDR Toxicological Profile for Ethylene Oxide (ATSDR)
- EPA Chemistry Dashboard
- EPA Acute Exposure Guideline Levels: Ethylene Oxide
- EPA Pesticides: Topical and Chemical Fact Sheets
- NLM Hazardous Substance Data Bank: Ethylene Oxide
- NLM Haz-Map: Ethylene Oxide
- NLM Household Products Database: Ethylene Oxide
- NTP Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition 2011: Ethylene Oxide
- OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Ethylene Oxide
- OSHA Standard, 1910.1047: Ethylene Oxide
- OSHA Fact Sheet: Ethylene Oxide
- OSHA Hazard Communication
- New Jersey Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets: Ethylene Oxide
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS): Ethylene oxide
- European Chemicals Agency (ECHA): Ethylene oxide
- Gestis Substance Database
- OECD Global Portal to Information on Chemical Substances
- IARC Monographs (Vol 100F): Ethylene Oxide
- IARC Monographs (Vol 97): Ethylene Oxide
- IARC Monographs (Vol. 60): Ethylene Oxide
- ILO International Chemical Safety Cards: Ethylene oxide
- WHO (CICAD 54): Ethylene Oxide
- WHO (Health Safety Guide 16): Ethylene Oxide
- WHO (Environmental Health Criteria 55): Ethylene Oxide
- Page last reviewed: November 2, 2018
- Page last updated: November 2, 2018
- Content source:
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division