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Ethylene Glycol

What is Ethylene Glycol?

Ethylene glycol is a colorless liquid that can be in the air in vapor form. It is used to make antifreeze and de-icing solutions for cars, airplanes, airport runways, and boats.

Ethylene glycol is used in hydraulic brake fluids and inks for stamp pads, ballpoint pens, and print shops. It is also used to make some plastics and textiles.

See also: Vehicles and Engines Factories Homes

Where is Ethylene Glycol found?

  • Consumer products – antifreeze, brake fluids, inks, plastics, and textiles
  • Air – vapor emissions

How can I be exposed to Ethylene Glycol?

Ethylene Glycol commonly enter(s) the body through:


Ingestion (swallowing)

  • Swallowing liquids that contain ethylene glycol

Inhalation (breathing)

  • Breathing ethylene glycol vapors

Skin contact

  • Touching antifreeze or other products that contain ethylene glycol

What happens when I am exposed to Ethylene Glycol?


Swallowing larger amounts of ethylene glycol can cause:

  • Serious illness
  • Potentially fatal kidney toxicity


Exposure to ethylene glycol can:

  • Affect kidney function
  • Change the body’s acid balance
  • Affect the nervous system, lungs, and heart

Who is at risk for exposure to Ethylene Glycol?

  • Consumers
    • Some consumer and automotive products contain ethylene glycol.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to ethyl glycol, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you use antifreeze products?
  • Read product labels.
  • Use antifreeze, coolants, or brake fluid with caution, and avoid inhaling or touching them.
  • Don’t store antifreeze in anything other than the original container, such as a cup or soft drink bottle, to avoid someone mistaking it for a beverage.
  • Make sure antifreeze containers have a child-proof cap, are stored away from food, and are properly marked.
  • Keep antifreeze products out of the reach of children.
  • Don’t leave opened bottles of antifreeze on or near the ground where children can reach them.
  • Avoid spilling or draining antifreeze on the ground to prevent children and pets from playing in it.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

  • Ethylene Glycol. ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about ethylene glycol exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
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