Cleaning Products Containing High Levels of EGBE May Cause Adverse Health Effects

by Roger McFadden

Senior Scientist, Staples, Inc.

EGBE ("Butyl") Used in Cleaners, Degreasers and Wax Strippers

Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether (EGBE) is an ether derivative of ethylene glycol and butyl alcohol. It has a number of synonyms including: 2-butoxyethanol; n-butoxyethanol; glycol ether EB; and butyl oxitol. It is frequently referred to as "butyl." The Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number for EGBE is 111-76-2. EGBE is sometimes formulated into water-based cleaners, degreasers and wax and finish strippers.

NIOSH Study Demonstrates EGBE Produces Dose-Related Adverse Health Effects

In September 1990 the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued some criteria for a recommended standard for occupational exposure to EGBE. NIOSH, an agency of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said in the recommendation, "The results of studies in animals have clearly demonstrated (EGBE) dose-related adverse effects on the central nervous system, the hematopoietic tissues, the blood, the kidneys, and the liver. Limited data from humans also indicate the risk of adverse effects on the central nervous and hematopoietic tissues, the blood and the kidneys." The NIOSH recommendation would set the Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for air or inhalation exposure at 5 ppm.

According to Dr. Pradyot Patnaik's 1992 book, A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO THE HAZARDOUS PROPERTIES OF CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES, "EGBE exhibited strong teratogenic effects and mild to moderate toxicity in test animals. . other toxic effects noted were respiratory distress, change in motor activity, and lung, kidney, and liver changes." The book further says, "Exposure to 200 ppm for eight hours may produce nausea, vomiting and headaches."

New Study Reports EGBE Caused Adverse Health Effects to Workers Exposed to Wax Strippers

EGBE has been shown to be toxic to liver, kidneys, lungs and red blood cells, according to a report given to the American Occupational Health Conference, in the spring of 1994, by Lawrence W. Raymond, M.D., East Carolina University School of Medicine, Greenville, N.C. The report says seven floor care workers reported nausea, severe eye and upper respiratory irritation (URI) when exposed to wax strippers containing EGBE.

Dr. Raymond goes on to say that the workers stripped the floors in a poorly ventilated room. The exposures according to the study were for as little as thirty minutes and as long as four hours. The study concluded that EGBE could cause lasting health effects from even a single exposure if used without appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and good ventilation.

EGBE Material Safety Data Sheets Claim Adverse Health Effects

The Material Safety Data Sheet for EGBE states, "Acute effects are narcosis and irritation to eyes and skin. . . Chronic effects are blood effects and injury to liver and kidney". In 1983, ARCO Chemical Company issued a toxicology information report about EGBE, "Results showed hematological (blood) effects as low as 86 ppm in the nine-day study and 77 ppm in the ninety-day study. In the acute study the LC50 was reported to be 486 ppm versus the 700 ppm previously reported."

 EGBE in Wax Strippers Provides Excellent Performance But Increased Exposure

Frequent recoating and burnishing can make floor finish removal difficult. A wax and finish stripper is generally employed to remove the floor finish. EGBE is a very effective ingredient formulated into some wax and finish strippers. It provides a relatively economical way to penetrate and liquify the hardened acrylic floor finishes. The level of active ingredients needed to remove floor finish is substantially higher than for other cleaning tasks. In fact, many strippers recommend one part stripper be diluted with four parts water for effective removal of floor finishes. This yields an extremely high level of exposure to floor care workers during the application, dwell time, scrubbing and removal process. For example, a wax stripper containing 10% EGBE mixed 1:4 yields 2.5% EGBE. The wax stripping process can take 2-4 hours for the workers to complete. Without adequate ventilation and protection floor care workers could breathe high levels of the EGBE in addition to other volatiles that may be present in the room.

Companies are Offering Safer Alternatives

Many companies have decided to look for alternatives to the EGBE for wax stripper formulations. Research scientists reviewed toxicity information submitted by NIOSH, OSHA and manufacturers of glycol ethers. They concluded that propylene based ( P-Series) glycol ethers like Glycol Ether DPM (CAS #34590-94-8) showed a marked difference in toxicity compared to the ethylene based E-Series glycol ethers of which the EGBE is a member. The P-Series glycol ethers did not induce any toxicity in rapidly dividing cell systems. There is no evidence of embryo toxicity, fetotoxicity, teratogenicity or reproductive toxicity in general resulting from exposure to P-series glycol ethers. In a recent ARCO Chemical toxicology summary it was stated, "all results of toxicological research on propylene glycol methyl ethers (P-Series) have shown no evidence of reproductive organ toxicity in either male or pregnant laboratory animals at significantly higher exposure levels." A 1983 NIOSH toxicology update stated, "All of the reports emphasized that the propylene series did not induce any of the toxic effects seen with the ethylene series."

Adequate ventilation of the workplace is essential for all wax stripping operations. The use of cleaning products containing P-series glycol ethers do not guarantee safety. All maintenance products should be used carefully and according to label directions. What can be said is that current toxicity information concludes that P-series glycol ethers provide a better alternative than E-series glycol ethers. Toxicity data and regulations are under constant review and do change. Be sure to stay current on these ingredients and issues.

Here Are Some Suggestions When Working With Products Containing High Levels of EGBE:

1) Be informed and have your safety experts review material safety data sheets (MSDS)

2) Ask your maintenance supply company or manufacturer for information

3) Contact NIOSH or OSHA and ask for their recommendations

4) Select products with reduced levels of EGBE

5) Use products with safer alternatives

6) Provide adequate ventilation when using any cleaning product

7) Wear appropriate personal protective equipment

8) Mix and use products according to label directions

9) Don't work long periods of time without getting fresh air

10) Use with cool water. Hot water speeds up evaporation.

11) Be sure all appropriate staff are properly trained in how to safely use EGBE products.