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ToxFAQs™ for Propylene Glycol
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about about propylene glycol. For more information, you may call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
Propylene glycol is a clear liquid used in antifreeze and deicing solutions. It is generally regarded as safe for use in food. Propylene glycol has been found in at least 5 of the 1,416 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is propylene glycol?
Propylene glycol is a clear, colorless, slightly syrupy liquids at room temperature. It may exist in air in the vapor form, although propylene glycol must be heated or briskly shaken to produce a vapor. Propylene glycol is practically odorless and tasteless.
Propylene glycol is used to make antifreeze and deicing solutions for cars, airplanes, and boats; to make polyester compounds; and as solvent in the paint and plastics industries.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as an additive that is "generally recognized as safe" for use in food. It is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. It is a solvent for food colors and flavors.
What happens to propylene glycol when it enters the environment?
- Propylene glycol is not likely to exist in large amounts in air.
- About half of the propylene glycol that enters the air will break down in 24–50 hours.
- It will break down within several days to a week in water and soil.
How might I be exposed to propylene glycol?
- You can be exposed to propylene glycol by eating food products, using cosmetics, or taking medicine that contains it.
- If you work in an industry that uses propylene glycol or products containing propylene glycol, you could be exposed by breathing or touching these substances.
How can propylene glycol affect my health?
Propylene glycol increases the amount of acid in the body. However, large amounts of propylene glycol are needed to cause this effect.
Propylene glycol breaks down at the same rate as ethylene glycol, although it does not form harmful crystals when it breaks down.
Frequent skin exposure to propylene glycol can sometimes irritate the skin.
How likely is propylene glycol to cause cancer?
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the EPA have not classified propylene glycol for carcinogenicity. Animal studies have not shown this chemical to be carcinogen.
Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to propylene glycol?
Propylene glycol is generally considered to be a safe chemical, and is not routinely tested for, unless specific exposure, such as to a medicine or cosmetic, can be linked with symptoms.
Since propylene glycol breaks down very quickly in the body, it is very difficult to detect, even though symptoms may be present.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The Food and Drug Administration has classified propylene glycol as "generally recognized as safe," which means that it is acceptable for use in flavorings, drugs, and cosmetics, and as a direct food additive.
Acid: A sour substance.
Carcinogenicity: Ability to cause cancer.
CAS: Chemical Abstracts Service.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1997.. Toxicological Profile for Propylene Glycol. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-57
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO · 888-232-6348 (TTY)
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.
Information line and technical assistance:
To order toxicological profiles, contact:
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5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
Phone: 800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000
Some PDF files may be electronic conversions from paper copy or other electronic ASCII text files. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors. Users are referred to the original paper copy of the toxicological profile for the official text, figures, and tables. Original paper copies can be obtained via the directions on the toxicological profile home page, which also contains other important information about the profiles.
The information contained here was correct at the time of publication. Please check with the appropriate agency for any changes to the regulations or guidelines cited.
- Page last reviewed: March 3, 2011
- Page last updated: October 18, 2011
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry