Ethylene Oxide

Last updated: September 27, 2018

What Does Ethylene Oxide Mean?

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is a major industrial chemical used in the production of many industrial and consumer goods.

It is commonly utilized as an intermediary chemical used to manufacture a range of chemicals sold as part of commercial goods. These include plastics, industrial solvents, detergents, and ethylene glycol-based products (such as antifreeze and polyester).

Safeopedia Explains Ethylene Oxide

EtO is an extremely hazardous chemical that poses a severe risk to human health. It is a highly flammable explosion hazard with mutagenic, carcinogenic, irritating, and anesthetizing properties. Furthermore, the transportation of EtO can carry significant risks due to its volatile, highly reactive nature. For this reason, EtO is often transported and kept frozen until it is ready to be used.

The use of ethylene oxide is addressed within specific OSHA standards for general industry (29 CFR 1910), Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915), and Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926). Employees are also protected by rules that prohibit exposure to an environment containing EtO levels of more than five parts-per-million (5 ppm) within any 15-minute period and more than an average of 1 ppm within an eight-hour period. Compliance with the 15 minutes and eight-hour exposure limits is established by separate air sampling tests. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that the environment itself is kept safe for workers; therefore, employers may not attempt to meet their exposure obligations by rotating employees in and out of an environment with unacceptably high levels of EtO.

As a result of the above exposure standards, all workplaces in which EtO is present in gaseous form are required to actively monitor the amount of the chemical that is present in the workplace through the use of a calibrated monitoring instrument. Furthermore, if employees are subjected to more than 0.5 ppm of EtO over an eight-hour period, the employer is obligated to begin certain employee monitoring activities, such as medical monitoring, in order to ensure health.

If it is not possible to reduce the workplace level of EtO to acceptable levels, employers must provide their employees with OSHA-recognized protective equipment. Jurisdictions outside the United States and in industries not governed by OSHA have similar regulations to protect workers against exposure to EtO.


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