Ethylene, C_2H_4, is a naturally occurring hormone that is produced in low quantities in fruits and vegetables. In plants, it is primarily responsible for the plant's growth and development. Pure ethylene is desired because it is a main component in a number of ethylene compounds, many of which are used for a variety of commercial activities.
Ethylene oxide is a gaseous ethylene compound usually produced in large quantities. It is used frequently as an intermediate for ethylene glycol and a number of other chemical compounds. When not used for chemical production, ethylene oxide is used as a sterilizer for medical equipment and supplies. It also has applications as a fumigant, or insecticide, in agriculture. Twenty-five states have regulations for the handling of ethylene oxide because exposure is dangerous. Short-term exposure results in respiratory injury, headache and nausea, while long-term exposure can lead to cancer and reproductive organ damage.
A second compound of ethylene is ethylene dichloride, a liquid, which is frequently used commercially. It is most often used in the production of other compounds, especially vinyl chloride, a component of vinyl materials. Ethylene dichloride is also employed in lead gasoline, which is no longer widely used. In the past, ethylene dichloride also had uses as a textile and PVC pipe cleaner. Inhalation of this chemical can lead to narcosis, nausea and vomiting. Effects of long-term exposure in humans remain unknown. However, lab tests have shown that ethylene dichloride changes liver and kidney activity in animals.
Ethylene bromide, C_2H_4Br_2, is a colourless and heavy liquid used as a pesticide for grains, fruits and tobacco. It is also used in the production of materials used for fire extinguishing. When serving as a solvent, ethylene bromide is used to synthesise dyes, pharmaceuticals and perfumes. Acute exposure to this chemical often leads to abdominal pain, eye and respiratory pain, and loss of appetite. Lengthy exposure can lead to depression.
Ethylene glycol is a liquid compound of ethylene. In workers, minor exposure can cause vomiting, drowsiness, convulsion and inducement of coma. Ethylene glycol is not a carcinogen, meaning it does not cause cancer. However, long-term exposure can cause throat and upper respiratory irritation. Ethylene glycol is primarily used as antifreeze. It is often used at airports to remove ice from runways and aircraft. The paint and plastic industries have also used it as a solvent.
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- Catalytic Generators, LLC: Ethylene
- United State Department of Labor, OSHA: Ethylene Oxide
- Encylcopedia Britannica: Fumigant
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Air Toxics Website: Vinyl Chloride
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Air Toxics Website: Ethylene Dichloride
- United State Department of Labor, OSHA: Ethylene Dibromide