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UE NEWS HEALTH AND SAFETY


Cellosolves Cause
Miscarriages

UE News, February 1993

Women workers exposed to chemicals called cellosolves had a 40 percent higher rate of miscarriages than other female employees, according to a recent study of the semiconductor industry in California. This is of special concern to UE members, since cellosolves, also known as glycol ethers, are used by many U.S. industries.

The California study was conducted by medical scientists from the University of California at Davis, and was funded by the semiconductor industry. These results were similar to those of two other industry-funded studies: a 1988 study of workers at a Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) plant, and a 1992 IBM study. When so many industry-funded studies find that workers are being harmed, then we’d better take these results quite seriously.

Let’s look now at these cellosolve chemicals — how to identify them and what we can do to protect ourselves.

IDENTIFYING CELLOSOLVE

First you need to find out whether or not cellosolves (also known as glycol ethers) are used in your department or in your plant.

In the semiconductor industry, and throughout the electronics industry, cellosolves are widely used in epoxies, lacquers, paints, enamels and other coating materials. Also, they are commonly used in paint removers and paint thinners. So plants which produce and finish metal and wood products may use cellosolves as well as construction, maintenance and home repair companies.

Printing operations use these chemicals in inks, and the textile industry uses them in dyes and pigments. Anti-icing additives in truck and auto brake fluids contain cellosolves. Glycol ethers are even used in some cosmetics. So whatever kind of plant you work in, you need to check for these chemicals, especially in department where paints, epoxies and other coatings are used or removed.

A SKUNK BY ANY NAME...

Unfortunately cellosolves often have long, complicated chemical names. In some cases there are several different chemical names for the same compound. For example, one chemical name for methyl cellosolve is Ethylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether, or simply EGME. Another is -Methoxyethanol, or 2-ME. So any one of these names describes exactly the same toxic compound.

This complicates the task of searching Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) to find out if these chemicals are used in your plant. But don’t let it hold you back — these compounds can be a serious threat to health. Below is a table of chemical and trade names for these compounds, which can help you in your search:

 

Common Name

Chemical Names

Registered Trade Names

Methyl cellosolve

Ethylene glycol methyl ether (EGME)
2-Methoexyethanol (2-ME)
Glycol methyl ether
Ethylene glycol monomethyl ether
ME

Dowanol EM
Ektasolve
Polysolve EM
Methyl Oxitol

Cellosolve

Ethylene glycol ethyl ether (EGEE)
2-Ethoxyethanol (2-EE)
Glycol ethyl ether
Ethylene glycolmonoethyl ether
EE

Dowanol EE
Polysolve EE
Oxitol

Butyl

2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE)
BE

 

Methyl cellosolve acetate

2-Methoxyethyl acetate

 

Cellosolve acetate

2-Ethoxyethyl acetate

 

 

PROTECTING YOURSELF

If any cellosolve or glycol ether chemical is used in your plant, the union health and safety committee should bring this to the attention of management and ask that a substitute material be sought. Often a substitute coating without cellosolves or glycol ethers can be found.

If these toxic chemicals must be used, make sure that adequate ventilation is provided and that the ventilation system is properly maintained. Also, since all cellosolve compounds can enter the body through the skin, proper protective clothing, including gloves, should be provided by management. Neoprene and nitrile rubber gloves are often used when these chemicals are being handled.


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