Occupational exposure to glycol ethers and human congenital malformations

George Maldonado, Elizabeth Delzell, Rochelle W. Tyl, Lowell E. Sever

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Objectives: This commentary reviews toxicological information and critically evaluates epidemiological information on the relationship between glycol ethers and congenital malformations. Methods: The authors identified and assessed toxicological and epidemiological research on glycol ethers used in occupational settings and congenital malformations. Sensitivity analyses evaluated the possible role of methodological problems in explaining the findings of the epidemiological studies. Results: Exposure to certain glycol ethers, including ethylene glycol monomethyl ether and ethylene glycol mono-ethyl ether, throughout the period of major organogenesis, has induced malformations of many organ systems in some of the animal models studied. Other glycol ethers, including ethylene glycol butyl and propyl ethers and most propylene glycol ethers, have not induced fetal malformations in the animal models studied. Four epidemiological studies have assessed the relationship between occupational exposure to glycol ethers and congenital malformations in humans. One study was uninformative because of small numbers, two found a positive association between glycol ethers and malformations of a number of different organs, and one found no association with neural-tube defects. Sensitivity analyses indicated that the results of the latter three investigations could be due to methodological problems. The positive studies, further, lack biological plausibility, in that the glycol ethers to which the subjects were exposed have not been, for the most part, teratogenic in the animal models that have been studied. Conclusions: The current evidence is insufficient for one to determine whether occupational exposure to glycol ethers causes human congenital malformations. We suggest that future studies quantify the effect of methodological problems on study results, using methods such as validation studies and sensitivity analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-423
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This publication was made possible by support from the ethylene and propylene glycol ethers panels of the Chemical Manufacturers Association. The authors thank Cathee A. Winkie for her assistance with the typing of the manuscript. We thank Gary Shaw for providing us with additional information about his study.


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