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. Unfortunately, EtO possesses several physical and health hazards that merit special attention. EtO 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. Chronic exposure has been associated with the occurrence of cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity, and sensitization.
Exposures to ethylene oxide are addressed in specific OSHA standards for general industry, maritime, and construction.
Provides assistance and information about the management of occupational exposures to ethylene oxide.
- Maximize Your Spirometry Screening and Surveillance Resources. OSHA/NIOSH InfoSheet (OSHA Publication 3415), (2011).
- Protect Yourself - Spirometry Breathing Test. OSHA/NIOSH Worker Info (OSHA Publication 3418), (2011).
- OSHA's Small Business Guide for Ethylene Oxide (PDF). OSHA Publication 3359, (April 2009). Provides guidance to help employers understand the EtO standard, with particular emphasis on how to monitor the quality of the air in workplaces where EtO is processed, used, or handled. Air monitoring is an important activity that can help alert employers when unsafe levels of EtO are present in the air so they can take steps to reduce employee exposure.
- Hospital. OSHA eTool. Focuses on some of the hazards and controls found in the hospital setting and describes standard requirements as well as recommended safe work practices for employee safety and health.
- Central Supply. Provides information on hazards and methods of exposure prevention regarding ethylene oxide gas.