OSHA recently published the Small Business Guide for Ethylene Oxide. The guidance document helps employers understand the ethylene oxide (EtO) standard and explains how to monitor air quality in workplaces where EtO is processed, used, or handled.
The document includes clarification of the various types of EtO exposure monitoring, lists and explains the exposure levels used by OSHA, and provides an outline of what employers should do when monitoring shows EtO exposure levels exceed the allowable limits.
Ethylene oxide (EtO) is produced in large volumes and is primarily used as an intermediate in the production of several industrial chemicals, the most notable of which is ethylene glycol. It is also used as a fumigant in certain agricultural products and as a sterilant for medical equipment and supplies.
Unfortunately, EtO possesses several physical and health hazards that merit special attention. EtO is both flammable and highly reactive. Acute exposures to EtO gas may result in respiratory irritation and lung injury, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and cyanosis. Chronic exposure has been associated with the occurrence of cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity, and sensitization.