Where Is Ethylene Glycol Found?

Course: WB 4342
CE Original Date: March 20, 2020
CE Renewal Date: March 20, 2022
CE Expiration Date: March 20, 2024
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Learning Objectives

After completing this section, you will be able to identify sources of ethylene glycol exposure.

Introduction

The most common source of ethylene glycol exposure is antifreeze. Antifreeze, which is readily available at hardware and automotive stores, can contain up to 95% ethylene glycol.

The primary sources of ethylene glycol in the environment are disposal of used antifreeze and use of de-icing solutions at airports (ATSDR 2010; EPA 2000).

Environmental Sources

The primary sources of ethylene glycol in the environment are from disposal of used antifreeze and use of de-icing solutions at airports.

Air

Ethylene glycol does not persist in large amounts in ambient air. This is because breakdown is rapid (half-life in air is 8–84 hours).

Water

Ethylene glycol is miscible with water. Its half-life ranges from 2 to 12 days in surface water and 4 to 24 days in groundwater. Bioconcentration and bioaccumulation are insignificant because ethylene glycol is not fat-soluble and biodegrades rapidly [Howard 1991].

Soil

Ethylene glycol will leach through soil to groundwater. It biodegrades rapidly in soil (ATSDR 2010).

Occupational Sources

Workers in industries producing or using products containing ethylene glycol might be exposed to ethylene glycol.

Sources from consumer products

A number of household products contain ethylene glycol as an ingredient [(NLM 2016)]. Those containing high concentrations of ethylene glycol include antifreeze products.

Key Points
  • The primary sources of ethylene glycol in the environment are disposal of used antifreeze and use of de-icing solutions at airports.
  • Most antifreeze products contain high concentrations of ethylene glycol.

To review relevant content, see the “Introduction” in this section.

Page last reviewed: October 7, 2020