OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

October 28, 1985

Mr. Steven W. Rohleder
Engineering/Safety Services
Erie Veterans Hospital
135 East 38th Street
Erie, Pennsylvania 16501

Dear Mr. Rohleder:

This is in response to your inquiry of September 6, regarding procedures for ethylene oxide (EtO) spills and ethylene oxide disposal.

All spills should be immediately cleaned up with non-combustible adsorbent material that is readily available on the market. OSHA does not specify any one type of spill cleaning and adsorbing material or equipment; however, water should be used to wash down spill areas.

Since EtO is a gas at room temperature, you are dealing with the gaseous form of EtO predominantly in your work air that will not produce a spill. For example, when EtO leaks from a high pressure vessel, the EtO would be in a liquid form for only a short period of time as it leaks into the air. It then quickly equilibrates with the room air to form a gas. Both the gaseous and, when necessary, the liquid phase of EtO exposure must be taken into consideration.

See enclosed excerpts from appendices of 29 CFR 1910.1047 (Ethylene Oxide) which includes special information on OSHA spill, leak and disposal procedures for ethylene oxide, such as the presence of ignition sources, evacuation, protective equipment (including gloves, clothing and respirators), restriction on personnel and waste disposal.

OSHA does not have requirements for the amount of time contaminated material is placed into an aerator nor who would determine such times.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has jurisdiction in the disposal of toxic materials and hazardous waste. However, any disposal methods or procedures should limit EtO worker exposure levels at or below the present OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for EtO of 1.0 ppm (1.0 part of EtO per million parts of air) as an 8-hour time-weighted average.

For further information concerning EtO disposal, you may contact EPA using the following address:

Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460

Enclosed is additional information you requested on EtO:

1. Excerpts from NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Report #HE 79-80, 82-746, Cobe Laboratories, Inc., September 1980.

2. Excerpts from NIOSH Technical Assistance Report No. TA 80-42, Hardin Memorial Hospital, September 1980.

3. Excerpts from NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Determination, Hospal Medical Corporation Report #He 78-70-528, September 1978.

4. Excerpts from NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Determination, Swedish Hospital, Report #78-42-498, May 1978.

5. Excerpts from NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Report, University of California, Moffitt Hospital, HHE #80-191-829, March 1981.

6. Excerpts from N. Irving Sax, Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials, Sixth Edition, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1984.

7. Excerpts from Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety, Vol. I, 3rd edition, ILO, Geneva, 1983.

8. Excerpts from Good Hospital Practice: Ethylene Oxide Gas - Ventilation Recommendations and Safe Use, AAMI, March 1981.

For more information concerning EtO spills, you may contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at the following address:

4676 Columbia Parkway
Cincinnati, OH 45226

If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to call on us again.


Stephen Mallinger
Acting Director
Directorate of Technical Support


September 6, 1985

TO:           Mr. James F. Foster
             U. S. Department of Labor

FROM:         Steven W. Rohleder 
             Safety Officer 
             Erie Veterans Administration Med. Center 
             Erie, Pennsylvania 16501

             Ethylene Oxide Safety Procedures


Having recently come into place as Safety Officer for this organization I am involved in a program of hazard abatement in regards to Ethylene Oxide. Along these lines I ran across your name as a contact point to submit questions for OSHA consistent answers.

My question is in regards to liquid EO spillage and the proper means of disposal. Our emergency procedures are clear up to the point where the spillage is absorbed using "noncombustible materials" at which time our personnel are directed to dispose of the materials "...as directed by the safety officer."

1. Is the terminology "noncombustible material" relevant as most absorbent articles are made of paper or cloth?

2. Upon the absorption of the spillage, would placing contaminated material in an aerator for a specific amount of time be acceptable? If so, could the time be determined by competent persons in our S.P.D. or is there a time guide regardless of the amount of material involved?

Your help will be most appreciated in this matter as I am concerned with meeting OSHA requirements in this gray area as well as any EPA standards.

Please make replies to:

Steven W. Rohleder
Engineering/Safety Services
Erie Veterans Hospital
135 East 38th Street
Erie, Pennsylvania 16501

Thank you!


Steven W. Rohleder