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Chemical Sampling Information (CSI)
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General Description

Synonyms: Dimethylene oxide; 1,2-Epoxyethane; Oxirane; ETO

OSHA IMIS Code Number: 1190

Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry Number: 75-21-8

NIOSH Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS) Identification Number: KX2450000

Department of Transportation Regulation Number (49 CFR 172.101) and 2012 Emergency Response Guidebook [4 MB PDF, 392 pages]: 1040 119P

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards - Ethylene Oxide: Physical description, chemical properties, potentially hazardous incompatibilities, and more

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Hazard Summary - Ethylene Oxide: Uses, sources and potential exposure, acute and chronic health hazard information, and more

Exposure Limits and Health Effects

Exposure Limit

Limit Values

HE Codes

Health Factors and Target Organs

OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) - General Industry
See 29 CFR 1910.1047

1 ppm
TWA

5 ppm
Excursion Limit
(15 minutes)

0.5 ppm
Action Level

HE1

Cancer (leukemia)

HE5

Reproductive effects, spontaneous abortion

HE7

Central nervous system depression, neurological effects

HE15

Sensitization and irritation of eyes and respiratory tract

OSHA PEL - Construction Industry
See 29 CFR 1926.1147

1 ppm
TWA

5 ppm
Excursion Limit (15 minutes)

0.5 ppm
Action Level

HE1

Cancer (leukemia)

HE5

Reproductive effects, spontaneous abortion

HE7

Central nervous system depression, neurological effects

HE15

Sensitization and irritation of eyes and respiratory tract

OSHA PEL - Shipyard Employment
See 29 CFR 1915.1047

1 ppm
TWA

5 ppm
Excursion Limit (15 minutes)

0.5 ppm
Action Level

HE1

Cancer (leukemia)

HE5

Reproductive effects, spontaneous abortion

HE7

Central nervous system depression, neurological effects

HE15

Sensitization and irritation of eyes and respiratory tract

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit (REL)

<0.1 ppm
(<0.18 mg/m3) TWA

5 ppm
(9 mg/m3)
Ceiling
(10 minutes)

Ca

HE1

Cancer (leukemia, stomach) , chromosomal damage in lymphocytes

HE5

Miscarriage

HE7

Peripheral neuropathy

HE12

Anemia

HE15

Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs; blisters, edema, burns, frostbite, and severe dermatitis; skin sensitization; numbing of the sense of smell; respiratory infection

American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) (2001)

1 ppm
(1.8 mg/m3)
TWA

A2; Skin

HE1

Cancer (leukemia)

HE5

Spontaneous abortion

HE7

Central nervous system and cognitive impairment

HE15

Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs; mild to severe dermatitis, blisters, edema, burns, and frostbite; skin sensitization

CAL/OSHA PELs
See also section 5220

1 ppm
(2 mg/m3)
TWA

5 ppm
STEL

HE1

Cancer (leukemia)

HE5

Spontaneous abortion

HE7

Central nervous system and cognitive impairment

HE15

Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs; mild to severe dermatitis, blisters, edema, burns, and frostbite; skin sensitization

National Toxicology Program (NTP) carcinogenic classification: Known to be a human carcinogen [167 KB PDF, 4 pages]

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) carcinogenic classification: Group 1 [642 KB PDF, 22 pages] (carcinogenic to humans)

EPA carcinogenic classification: Not listed

EPA Inhalation Reference Concentration (RfC): Not established

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Inhalation Minimal Risk Level (MRL): 0.09 ppm (intermediate)

NIOSH Immediately Dangerous To Life or Health Concentration (IDLH): 800 ppm

Notes on Other Potential Health Effects and Hazards

  1. Ethylene oxide is extremely flammable (NIOSH/IPCS 2001).
  2. A cohort of over 2,000 workers employed in two plants producing medical equipment sterilized with ethylene oxide were investigated. The findings indicate limited or low risks for cancer due to low occupational exposure to ethylene oxide. However, a positive exposure-response relationship with breast cancer was observed (Mikoczy et al. 2011).
  3. Ethylene oxide forms adducts with hemoglobin and DNA, which researchers have used as biomarkers of exposure (Kolman et al. 2002).
  4. A 35-year-old man experienced occupational asthma after acute exposure to ethylene oxide (Deschamps et al. 1992).
  5. The NTP notes that an increased risk of cancer has been found in studies of workers using ethylene oxide as a sterilizing agent for medical devices and spices, and in chemical synthesis and production. The increased cancers were lymphomas and leukemias, with evidence for other sites. (NTP 2012a)
  6. IARC noted that ethylene oxide causes lymphatic and hematopoietic tumors and breast cancers in people. (IARC 2010)
  7. Inhalation studies in laboratory animals showed hematopoietic tumors, breast cancer and lung cancer. (IARC 2010)
  8. ACGIH notes that ethylene oxide causes chromosomal damage in exposed workers and may cause reproductive toxicity in exposed women. (ACGIH 2001)

Date Last Revised: 11/16/2012

Literature Basis:

  • ACGIH: Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEIs) - Ethylene Oxide. 2001.
  • Deschamps, D., Rosenberg, N., Soler, P., Maillard, G., Fournier, E., Salson, D. and Gervais, P.: Persistent asthma after accidental exposure to ethylene oxide. Br. J. Ind. Med. 49(7): 523-525, 1992.
  • Kolman, A., Chovanec, M. and Osterman-Golkar, S.: Genotoxic effects of ethylene oxide, propylene oxide and epichlorhydrin in humans: update review (1990-2001). Mutat. Res. 512(2-3): 173-194, 2002.
  • IARC Monographs, Volume 100F, Ethylene Oxide, 2010 [642 KB PDF, 22 pages]
  • Mikoczy, Z., Tinnerberg, H., Bjork, J., and Albin, M.: Cancer incidence and mortality in Swedish sterilant workers exposed to ethylene cxide: Updated cohort study findings 1972-2006. Int J Environ Res Public Health 8(6): 2009-2019, 2011.
  • National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens Ethylene Oxide, 2012 [167 KB PDF, 4 pages]
  • NIOSH: Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Ethylene Oxide, Potential Human Carcinogen. 1988.
  • NIOSH/IPCS: International Chemical Safety Cards - Ethylene Oxide. October 18, 2001.

Monitoring Methods used by OSHA

Laboratory Sampling/Analytical Method:

  • sampling media: Coated Carbon Beads Tube (100/50 mg sections, 20/40 mesh); coating is HBr.
    analytical solvent: Methanol
    maximum volume: 12 Liters
    maximum flow rate: 0.05 L/min (TWA)
    maximum volume: 0.75 Liter
    maximum flow rate: 0.05 L/min (EL)
    current analytical method: Gas Chromatography; GC/ECD
    method reference: OSHA Analytical Method (OSHA 1010)
    method classification: Fully Validated
  • sampling media: Coated Petroleum Base Charcoal Tube (100/50 mg sections, 20/40 mesh); coating is HBr.
    analytical solvent: Dimethylformamide
    maximum volume: 24 Liters
    maximum flow rate: 0.1 L/min (TWA)
    maximum volume: 1.5 Liters
    maximum flow rate: 0.1 L/min (EL)
    current analytical method: Gas Chromatography; GC/ECD
    method reference: OSHA Manual of Analytical Methods (OSHA 50)
    method classification: Fully Validated
  • sampling media: 3M Ethylene oxide Monitors #3551
    analytical solvent: Tetrahydrofuran
    minimum time: 60 minutes
    current analytical method: Gas Chromatography; GC/ECD
    method reference: OSHA Manual of Analytical Methods (OSHA 49)
    method classification: Fully Validated
    note: Not to be used when monitoring for the Excursion Limit (EL). Samples may be collected up to an 8-hour period.
  • sampling media: Two Charcoal Tubes in Series (100/50 mg sections)
    maximum volume: 3 Liters
    maximum flow rate: 0.05 L/min
    current analytical method: Gas Chromatography
    method reference: Wisconsin Occupational Health Laboratory (WOHL) Methods

On-Site Sampling Techniques/Methods:

  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Drger
    model/type: Ethylene oxide 1/a, order no. 67 28961
    sampling information: 20 strokes
    upper measurement limit: 15 ppm
    detection limit: approx. 1 ppm
    overall uncertainty: 32%
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Drger
    model/type: Ethylene oxide 25/a, order no. 67 28241
    sampling information: 30 strokes
    upper measurement limit: 500 ppm
    detection limit: approx. 10 ppm
    overall uncertainty: 32%
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Gastec
    model/type: 163LL
    sampling information: 2 to 4 strokes
    upper measurement limit: 10 ppm
    detection limit: 0.5 ppm
    overall uncertainty: 25% for 0.1 to 0.5 ppm, 16% for 1 to 5 ppm
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Gastec
    model/type: 163L
    sampling information: 1 to 4 strokes
    upper measurement limit: 350 ppm
    detection limit: 0.1 ppm
    overall uncertainty: 25% for 1 to 20 ppm, 16% for 20 to 100 ppm
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Gastec
    model/type: 163
    sampling information: 1 stroke
    upper measurement limit: 3.0%
    detection limit: 0.02%
    overall uncertainty: 16% for 0.05 to 1.0%, 8% for 1.0 to 3%
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Matheson-Kitagawa
    model/type: 8014-122SC
    sampling information: follow manufacturers instructions
    upper measurement limit: 15 ppm
    detection limit: approx. 1 ppm
    overall uncertainty: unknown
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Matheson-Kitagawa
    model/type: 8014-122SB
    sampling information: follow manufacturers instructions
    upper measurement limit: 100 ppm
    detection limit: approx. 5 ppm
    overall uncertainty: unknown
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • device: Detector Tube
    manufacturer: Matheson-Kitagawa
    model/type: 8014-122SA
    sampling information: follow manufacturers instructions
    upper measurement limit: 4%
    detection limit: approx. 0.01%
    overall uncertainty: unknown
    method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)

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