Who is at Risk of Exposure to Ethylene Glycol?

Course: WB 4342
CE Original Date: March 20, 2020
CE Expiration Date: March 20, 2022
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Learning Objectives

After completing this section, you will be able to identify who is at risk of exposure to ethylene glycol.

Introduction

For the general population, the primary risk of exposure to ethylene glycol is through contact with automobile antifreezes and coolants.

People potentially at greater risk for ethylene glycol exposure include those who live near

  • airports where large amounts of ethylene glycol are used for aircraft de-icing or
  • hazardous waste sites contaminated with ethylene glycol.

Workers in industries producing or using products that contain ethylene glycol are at greatest risk for exposure.

General U.S. Population

In the general U.S. population, exposure leading to ethylene glycol toxicity occurs most commonly through accidental or intentional ingestion of antifreeze. The 2015 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers documented 6,895 ethylene glycol exposures and 22 deaths.

The general U.S. population also can be exposed to ethylene glycol by skin contact while handling automotive antifreezes, coolants, and brake fluids. However, such exposure is generally not likely to cause adverse health effects.

Special Populations – Environmental Exposures

Persons living near airports where large amounts of ethylene glycol are used for aircraft de-icing or persons who live near hazardous waste sites contaminated with ethylene glycol are potentially at greater risk for ethylene glycol exposure, particularly if they consume contaminated groundwater. Large amounts of ethylene glycol are sprayed onto airplane wings as an aerosol or mist to prevent ice buildup. Used in this manner, ethylene glycol might contaminate groundwater near airports through runoff. The spray also might expose workers to air levels ranging from 0.05 to 22 .05- 22 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) [(ATSDR 2010).

Ethylene glycol rapidly degrades in air, water, and soil. Available monitoring data indicate that it is only found near areas of release. Ethylene glycol is not expected to be found in the environment away from areas where it is released. Because of that, the general U.S. population is not expected to be exposed to significant environmental background levels of this substance (ATSDR 2010).

Workers - Occupational Exposure

Products containing high concentrations of ethylene glycol include antifreeze, coolants, de-icing fluids, brake fluids, solvents, and latex paints. Workers in industries producing or using those products potentially are at high risk for exposure.

Although skin contact is the main route of occupational exposure, vapors or mists can be inhaled when the chemical is heated, agitated, or sprayed.

Key Points
  • In the general U.S. population, ethylene glycol toxicity occurs most commonly through accidental or intentional ingestion of antifreeze.
  • People potentially at increased risk for ethylene glycol exposure include those who live near
    • hazardous waste sites contaminated with ethylene glycol,
    • industrial facilities where ethylene glycol is produced or used, or
    • areas where ethylene glycol-based de-icing formulations are used.
  • Workers in industries producing or using products that contain ethylene glycol are at potentially increased risk of exposure.

For relevant content, review the whole section “Who is at Risk of Exposure to Ethylene Glycol?”

Page last reviewed: October 7, 2020