Ethylene glycol is primarily used in the manufacture of automotive antifreeze/coolant. It is the primary ingredient in airplane deicers. Ethylene glycol is used in hydraulic brake fluids, electrolytic condensers, as solvents in paints and plastics, in inks, as a softening agent in cellophane, and in the manufacture of plasticisers, solvents, synthetic fibres and waxes.
Substance name: Ethylene glycol (1,2-ethanediol)
CASR number: 107-21-1
Molecular formula: C2H6O2
Synonyms: 1,2-ethanediol, EG, glycol, 1,2-dihydroxyethane, glycol alcohol, ethane-1,2-diol, ethylene alcohol, ethylene dihydrate, monoethylene glycol
A colourless, odourless, syruplike liquid It will completely dissolve in water.
Melting Point: -13°C
Boiling Point: 197°C
Specific Gravity: 1.118
The flash point of ethylene glycol is between 111-121°C (different temperatures based upon different sources).
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of ethylene glycol emissions in Australia.
Short term exposure from oral intake of ethylene glycol (in increasingly large doses) can cause vomiting, drowsiness, coma, respiratory failure, convulsions, cardiopulmonary effects, and kidney and brain damage. Ethylene glycol vapour (almost always from a workplace environment) can irritate the eyes, throat, and nose. Large concentrations of the vapour can cause the same effects as oral doses.
Entering the body
Ethylene glycol can enter your body when it is ingested, or when materials that contain it are ingested (antifreeze/coolant, inks, brake fluids, etc.) It can also pass through the skin. If you work in an industry that uses or manufactures ethylene glycol you may also could be exposed by ethylene glycol vapour.
You are not likely to be exposed to ethylene glycol in the general environment. You may be exposed to ethylene glycol if you work where it is manufactured or used. Examples: the chemical industry, automotive repair, airplane deicing. Consumers can be exposed to ethylene glycol when they change their radiator fluid or use other products with a high ethylene glycol content.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standards for ethylene glycol through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants. These standards are only appropriate for use in workplaces and are not limited to any specific industry or operation. Make sure you understand how to interpret the standards before you use them.
Ethylene glycol (vapour)
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 20 parts per million (52 mg/m3)
- Maximum short term exposure limit (STEL): 40 parts per million (104 mg/m3)
Ethylene glycol (particulate)
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 10 mg/m3
Drinking water guidelines
There is no guideline for ethylene glycol in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
The immediate effects of exposure to high concentrations (e.g. resulting from a major spill) of ethylene glycol can mean death of animals, birds or fish and death or low growth rate in plants. Long-term effects on animal life are shortened lifespan, reproductive problems, lower fertility and changes in appearance or behaviour. Ethylene glycol has moderate toxicity to aquatic life on both a short term and long term basis.
Entering the environment
If spilled in water ethylene glycol will mix with the water. Ethylene glycol can also be dispersed by the wind.
Where it ends up
In the atmosphere ethylene glycol will be changed into other products in approximately one and a half days, or washed out by rain into the water or soil. In water and soil it degrades in several days to a week. The major degradation product is hydroxyacetaldehyde.
No national guidelines.
Chemical manufacture, releases from manufacturing industries. May be emitted to air, water or land.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
Improper disposal of used antifreeze/coolant, and solvents containing ethylene glycol may result in emissions to land and water. Use of aircraft deicing fluids may result in emissions to land and water.
Ethylene glycol is unlikely to be found in the general environment. No significant natural sources of ethylene glycol are known.
Leaking car or truck radiators.
Automotive antifreeze/coolants, inks.
Sources used in preparing this information
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (1997), ToxFAQS, Ethylene Glycol and Propylene Glycol (accessed, March, 1999)
- Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) (1992), Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters.
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- Cornell University, Planning Design and Construction, MSDS, Ethylene Glycol, Tech (accessed, March, 1999)
- Environmental Defense Fund (1998), ethylene glycol: The Chemical Scorecard: (accessed, March, 1999)
- Environmental Health Center, a division of the National Safety Council, Environment Writer – Chemical Backgrounders (March, 1999) (accessed, March, 1999)
- Manufacturing Technology Information Service, Oakridge Centers for Manufacturing Technology, Biodegradation of Glycols at Airports and Natural Gas Pumping Stations (September, 1996) (accessed, March, 1999)
- Meagher, D (1991), The Macmillan Dictionary of The Australian Environment, Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd.
- National Environment Protection Council (1998), National Environment Protection Measure for the National Pollutant Inventory (accessed, March, 1999)
- New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (1995), Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, Ethylene glycol, PO Box 368, Trenton, NJ.
- New Jersey Department of Health, Right to Know Program (1986), TRIFacts, Ethylene glycol (accessed, March, 1999)
- Richardson, M (1992), Dictionary of Substances and their Effects, Royal Society of Chemistry, Clays Ltd, England.
- Sittig, M (1991), Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens, 3rd edition, Noyes Publications, USA.
- Technical Advisory Panel (1999), Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- US Department of Health and Human Services (1990), NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, Publication No. 90-117.
- US Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (May, 1998), United Air Toxics Website (accessed, March, 1999)
- Worksafe Australia (1996), Hazardous Substance Ethylene glycol (accessed, March, 1999)
- Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, accessed June 2021.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated October 2017, accessed May 2018