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Ethylene Oxide Fact Sheet

This fact sheet is part of a series of chemical fact sheets developed by TURI to help Massachusetts companies, community organizations and residents understand the chemical's use and health and environmental effects, as well as the availability of safer alternatives. Since Massachusetts companies report usage under the Toxics Use Reduction Act, readers will learn how the chemicals are being used and by which companies.

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.

Learn more about Ethylene oxide health effects, use in Massachusetts, and alternatives here.