Ethylene oxide poses serious hazards to human health; it was recently upgraded to a known human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program. In 1996, United States manufacturers consumed over 8.8 billion pounds of ethylene oxide, primarily as an intermediary chemical in the manufacture of ethylene glycols, glycol ethers, ethanolamines, and surface-active agents (surfactants). Some businesses and hospitals use ethylene oxide directly as a sterilant or fumigant as it effectively kills microbial organisms. In Massachusetts, only one facility uses ethylene oxide in large quantities to sterilize disposable medical equipment.
Ethylene oxide is a potential reproductive hazard (teratogen). Both chronic and acute exposures may cause miscarriages. Animal studies indicate the potential for lower testicular weight and sperm concentration, and testicular degeneration.
Ethylene oxide consumption in Massachusetts is low because the state lacks manufacturers of ethylene glycols, glycol ethers, or ethylene oxide-based surfactants where EtO would be used as an intermediary. It is likely used widely as a sterilant in quantities below the 10,000 pound threshold for reporting under MA TURA and U.S. TRI (Toxics Release Inventory).