Ethylene glycol is a syrupy liquid used in antifreeze, brake fluid, and many consumer products.
What is ethylene glycol?
Ethylene glycol is a colorless, odorless, syrupy liquid that has a sweet taste. It can exist in the air in vapor form. Other common names for ethylene glycol are glycol and glycol alcohol. The chemical formula for ethylene glycol is C2H6O2. How might I be exposed to ethylene glycol?
Ethylene glycol is used to make antifreeze and de-icing solutions for cars, airplanes, airport runways, and boats. It is used in cooling and heating systems, hydraulic brake fluids, electrolytic condensers, plasticizers, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, lacquers, resins, wood stains, leather dyeing, photographic developing solutions, textile processing, polyester fibers, synthetic waxes, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, and safety explosives. It is used to create artificial smoke and mist for theatrical productions, and as an ingredient in several processes related to packing, transporting, or holding food. Other uses for ethylene glycol are as a solvent for paints and plastics, a softening agent for cellophane, a stabilizer for soybean extinguishing foam, and an ingredient in printers’ inks, stamp pad inks, and ballpoint pen inks.
You can be exposed to ethylene glycol by breathing or touching it at home if you use antifreeze, photographic developing solutions, latex paints, coolants, or brake fluid. You can also be exposed by eating food, using cosmetics, or taking medicines that contain ethylene glycol. How can ethylene glycol affect my health?
At work, you can be exposed to ethylene glycol if you work at a facility that manufactures antifreeze, brake fluid, coolants, cellophane, inks, ballpoint pens, polyester fibers, plastics, lacquers, synthetic waxes, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, or safety explosives. Exposure can occur if you work in the food packaging and transportation business, air conditioning and heating business, at an airport, in a vehicle repair shop, or at a boatyard.
Eating or drinking very large amounts of ethylene glycol can cause death, coma, or unconsciousness. Exposure may damage a developing fetus.
Eating or drinking large amounts of ethylene glycol may cause adult respiratory distress syndrome, affect or damage the kidneys and brain, and cause convulsions and heart problems.
Exposure to lower amounts of ethylene glycol can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, bloody or no urine, rapid breathing, hypothermia, facial paralysis, dizziness, blue lips and fingernails, low or high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, headaches, slurred speech, disorientation, feeling intoxicated, and irritated skin, eyes, nose, and throat.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to ethylene glycol, contact your health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
Antifreeze (National Library of Medicine)
Ethylene Glycol. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Ethylene Glycol. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Ethylene Glycol. Household Products Database (National Library of Medicine)
Ethylene Glycol. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Last Updated: November 06, 2008