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Ethylene Oxide

General Description

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

OSHA IMIS code: 1190

CAS number: 75-21-8

Monitoring Methods used by OSHA

Primary Laboratory Sampling/Analytical Method:
  • coated carbon beads tube (100/50 mg sections, 20/40 mesh); coating is HBr
  • maximum volume: 12 L
  • maximum flow rate: 0.05 L/min (TWA)
  • maximum volume: 0.75 L
  • maximum flow rate: 0.05 L/min (EL)
  • current analytical method: gas chromatography; GC/ECD
  • analytical solvent: acetonitrile/toluene
  • method reference: OSHA 1010 (fully validated)
On-Site Sampling Techniques/Methods:
  • model/type: ethylene oxide 1/a, order no. 67 28961
  • sampling information: 20 strokes
  • upper measurement limit: 15 ppm
  • detection limit: 1 ppm
  • overall uncertainty: 32%
  • method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • model/type: 8014-122SC
  • sampling information: follow manufacturer’s instructions
  • upper measurement limit: 15 ppm
  • detection limit: approx. 1 ppm
  • overall uncertainty: unknown
  • method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • model/type: 8014-122SB
  • sampling information: follow manufacturer’s instructions
  • upper measurement limit: 100 ppm
  • detection limit: approx. 5 ppm
  • overall uncertainty: unknown
  • method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)
  • model/type: 8014-122SA
  • sampling information: follow manufacturer’s instructions
  • upper measurement limit: 4%
  • detection limit: approx. 0.01%
  • overall uncertainty: unknown
  • method reference: on-site air secondary (manufacturer)

Exposure Limits and Health Effects (Updated September 6, 2012)

Standard Set By Exposure Limit Health Effect Codes -- Health Effects and Target Organs

OSHA PEL - General Industry
See 29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1

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 1926.55 Appendix A
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 1915.1000 Table Z-Shipyards
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
NIOSH 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
ACGIH TLV® (1990) 1 ppm (1.8 mg/m3) TWA
A2
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

Carcinogenic classification:

EPA Inhalation Reference Concentration (RfC): Not established

ATSDR Inhalation Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs): 0.09 ppm (intermediate)

NIOSH IDLH concentration: 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)

Partial reference list:

  • ACGIH: Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEIs) - Ethylene Oxide. 2016.
  • 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.
  • No authors listed: Ethylene Oxide. IARC Monogr. Eval. Carcinog. Risks Hum. 100F, 2010.
  • 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.
  • NTP: Report on Carcinogens Ethylene Oxide, 2012
  • NIOSH: Occupational Safety and Health Guideline for Ethylene Oxide, Potential Human Carcinogen. 1988.
  • NIOSH/CEC/IPCS: International Chemical Safety CardsEthylene Oxide. October 18, 2001.

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