Public Health Statement for Propylene Glycol
Spanish: Glicol de propileno
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This Public Health Statement is the summary chapter from the Toxicological Profile for Propylene Glycol. It is one in a series of Public Health Statements about hazardous substances and their health effects. A shorter version, the ToxFAQs™, is also available. This information is important because this substance may harm you.
The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636.
This statement was prepared to give you
information about propylene glycol and to
emphasize the human health effects that may result
from exposure to it. The Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) has identified 1,416 hazardous waste
sites as the most serious in the nation. These sites
make up the National Priorities List (NPL) and are
the sites targeted for long-term federal clean-up
activities. Propylene glycol has been identified in at
least 5 of the 1,416 NPL sites.
When a chemical is released from a large source,
such as an industrial plant, or from a container, such
as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment as a
chemical emission. This emission, which is also
called a release, does not always lead to exposure.
You can be exposed to a chemical only when you
come into contact with the chemical. You may be
exposed to it in the environment by breathing,
eating, or drinking substances containing the
chemical or from skin contact with it.
If you are exposed to a hazardous chemical such as
ethylene glycol, several factors will determine
whether harmful health effects will occur and what
the type and severity of those health effects will be.
These factors include the dose (how much), the
duration (how long), the route or pathway by which
you are exposed (breathing, eating, drinking, or skin
contact), the other chemicals to which you are
exposed, and your individual characteristics such as
age, sex, nutritional status, family traits, lifestyle,
and state of health.
What is propylene glycol?
Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that
absorbs water. Propylene glycol is also used to
make polyester compounds, and as a base for deicing
solutions. Propylene glycol is used by the
chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries as an
antifreeze when leakage might lead to contact with
food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
has classified propylene glycol as an additive that is
"generally recognized as safe" for use in food. It is
used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in
certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. It is
a solvent for food colors and flavors, and in the
paint and plastics industries. Propylene glycol is
also used to create artificial smoke or fog used in
fire-fighting training and in theatrical productions.
Other names for propylene glycol are 1,2-dihydroxypropane,
1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol,
and trimethyl glycol.
Propylene glycol is clear, colorless, slightly syrupy
liquid at room temperature. It may exist in air in the
vapor form, although propylene glycol must be
heated or briskly shaken to produce a vapor. Propylene glycol is practically odorless and
What happens to propylene glycol when it enters the environment?
Waste streams from the manufacture of propylene
glycol are primarily responsible for the releases into
the air, water, and soil. Propylene glycol can enter
the environment when it is used as a runway and
aircraft de-icing agent. Propylene glycol can also
enter the environment through the disposal of
products that contains it. It is not likely to exist in
large amounts in the air. We have little information
about what happens to propylene glycol in the air.
The small amounts that may enter the air are likely
to break down quickly. If it escapes into the air, it
will take between 24 and 50 hours for half the
amount released to break down. Propylene glycol
can mix completely with water and can soak into
soil. It can break down relatively quickly (within
several days to a week) in surface water and in soil.
Propylene glycol can also travel from certain types
of food packages into the food in the package.
How might I be exposed to propylene glycol?
Propylene glycol has been approved for use at
certain levels in food, cosmetics, and
pharmaceutical products. If you eat food products,
use cosmetics, or take medicines that contain it, you
will be exposed to propylene glycol, but these
amounts are not generally considered harmful.
People who work in industries that use propylene
glycol may be exposed by touching these products
or inhaling mists from spraying them. These exposures tend to be at low levels, however.
Propylene glycol is used to make artificial smoke
and mists for fire safety training, theatrical
performances, and rock concerts. These artificial
smoke products may also be used by private
citizens. These products are frequently used in
enclosed spaces, where exposure may be more
How can propylene glycol ether enter and leave my body?
Propylene glycol can enter your bloodstream if you
breathe air containing mists or vapors from this
compound. It can also enter your bloodstream
through your skin if you come in direct contact with
it and do not wash it off. If you eat products that
contain propylene glycol, it may enter your
bloodstream. Exposure of the general population to
propylene glycol is likely since many foods, drugs,
and cosmetics contain it.
Propylene glycol breaks down in the body in about
48 hours. However, studies of people and animals
show that if you have repeated eye, skin, nasal, or
oral exposures to propylene glycol for a short time,
you may develop some irritation.
How can propylene glycol affect my health?
Propylene glycol breaks down at the same rate as
ethylene glycol, although it does not form harmful
crystals when it breaks down. Frequent skin
exposure to propylene glycol can sometimes irritate
Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to propylene glycol?
Propylene glycol is generally considered to be a
safe chemical, and is not routinely tested for, unless
specific exposure, such as to a medicine or
cosmetic, can be linked with the observed bad
symptoms. Since propylene glycol breaks down
very quickly in the body, it is very difficult to
What recommendations has the federal government made to protect human health?
The government has developed regulations and
guidelines for propylene glycol. These are designed
to protect the public from potential adverse health
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
classified propylene glycol as "generally recognized
as safe," which means that it is acceptable for use in
flavorings, drugs, and cosmetics, and as a direct
food additive. According to the World Health
Organization, the acceptable dietary intake of
propylene glycol is 25 mg of propylene glycol for
every kilogram (kg) of body weight.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1997. Toxicological profile for Propylene Glycol. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.