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Notices to Readers NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletins on Workplace Hazards

MMWR 39(24);417-419

Publication date: 06/22/1990


Table of Contents

Article

References

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Article

On July 13, 1989, CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published Current Intelligence Bulletins (CIBs) on propylene oxide (1) and on ethylene oxide (2). These publications are two in a series that provide new or updated information on chemical substances, physical agents, and safety hazards in the workplace. These bulletins, which are described below, are now available to the public.*

CIB 51: Carcinogenic Effects of Exposure to Propylene Oxide. NIOSH recommends that propylene oxide be regarded as a potential occupational carcinogen. This recommendation is based on the results of animal studies confirming that the chemical is a direct-acting carcinogen. Nasal tumors were induced in both rats and mice exposed to propylene oxide by inhalation. Rats given the chemical by gavage developed squamous cell carcinomas in the forestomach. No epidemiologic data are available for the estimated 200,000 workers exposed to propylene oxide.

U.S. production of propylene oxide in 1980 was approximately 1.8 billion pounds. Most propylene oxide is used as an intermediate in the production of polyether polyols used to manufacture polyurethane foam and in the production of propylene glycol for unsaturated polyester resins. Minor quantities are used for sterilizing medical equipment and for fumigating foodstuffs.

The findings of cancer and other tumors in both rats and mice treated with propylene oxide meet the criteria established in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Cancer Policy (3) for regarding it as a potential occupational carcinogen. As a result, NIOSH recommends reducing exposure to the lowest feasible concentration.

CIB 52: Ethylene Oxide Sterilizers in Health-Care Facilities: Engineering Controls and Work Practices. CIB 52 identifies potential sources of ethylene oxide (EtO) exposure from gas sterilizers in health-care facilities and describes control methods recommended by NIOSH. The 1981 NIOSH publication CIB 35: Ethylene Oxide (EtO) indicated that EtO was carcinogenic in animals and produced adverse reproductive effects in mammals (4); subsequent animal studies support these findings.

In addition, NIOSH has conducted and reviewed recent research on control methods and work practices designed to protect workers employed near EtO sterilizers in health-care facilities and has developed recommendations for the general and specific control of these exposures. General control methods include equipment maintenance, workplace monitoring, a good respiratory protection program, and labeling and posting of hazards. The specific methods include using engineering controls, good work practices, and personal protective equipment.

These recommendations will assist employers in complying with OSHA's current regulations. OSHA has lowered the permissible exposure limit for EtO and recently added an excursion limit.

Reported by: Div of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.


References

  1. NIOSH. Carcinogenic effects of exposure to propylene oxide. Cincinnati, Ohio: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1989; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)89-111. (Current intelligence bulletin no. 51).
  2. NIOSH. Ethylene oxide sterilizers in health care facilities: engineering controls and work practices. Cincinnati, Ohio: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1989; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)89-115. (Current intelligence bulletin no. 52).
  3. Office of the Federal Register. Code of federal regulations: labor. Part 1990: identification, classification, and regulation of potential occupational carcinogens--the OSHA Cancer Policy. Washington, DC: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, 1988. (29 CFR Section 1990-112).
  4. NIOSH. Ethylene oxide (EtO). Cincinnati, Ohio: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1981; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)81-130. (Current intelligence bulletin no. 35).

*Single copies of the bulletins are available without charge from the Publications Dissemination Section, DSDTT, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226; telephone (513) 533-8287.

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This page last reviewed: Wednesday, January 27, 2016
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