Public Health Statement for Ethion
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This Public Health Statement is the
summary chapter from the Toxicological
Profile for Ethion. 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 1-888-422-8737.
This public health statement tells you
about ethion and the effects of exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation.
These sites make up the National Priorities List (NPL) and
are the sites targeted for long-term federal cleanup activities.
Ethion has been found in at least 9 of the 1,577 current or
former NPL sites. However, the total number of NPL sites evaluated
for this substance is not known. As more sites are evaluated,
the sites at which ethion is found may increase. This information
is important because exposure to this substance may harm you
and because these sites may be sources of exposure.
When a substance is released from a large
area, such as an industrial plant, or from a container, such
as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment. This release
does not always lead to exposure. You are exposed to a substance
only when you come in contact with it. You may be exposed
by breathing, eating, or drinking the substance, or by skin
If you are exposed to ethion, many factors
determine whether you'll be harmed. These factors include
the dose (how much), the duration (how long), and how you
come in contact with it. You must also consider the other
chemicals you're exposed to and your age, sex, diet, family
traits, lifestyle, and state of health.
What is ethion?
Ethion is a chemical used in agriculture
as a pesticide. Ethion does not occur naturally in the environment
but is manufactured by industry. Pure ethion is a clear-to-yellowish
liquid with an unpleasant sulfur type of smell. Most of the
ethion used in pest control is diluted with other liquids
and used as a spray. It is also sometimes used as a liquid
adsorbed on dust or granules. Ethion is sold under many trade
names including Bladan®, Rodicide®, and Nialate®. The
ethion present at hazardous waste sites will most likely be
in a liquid solution or adsorbed on solid granules.
Ethion is a member of a group of pesticides
known as organophosphates. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos (Dursban®)
are other members of this group.
In 1989, about one million pounds of
ethion were used in the United States. In 1992, about 868,218
pounds of ethion were used in the United States in farming.
The main use of ethion is for insect control on citrus trees.
It is also used on cotton, fruit and nut trees, and a variety
of vegetables. Ethion may also be used on lawns and turf grasses.
Ethion is not used in the home for pest control.
You will find further information on
the properties and uses of ethion in Chapters 3 and 4 of the
What happens to ethion when it enters the environment?
Ethion enters the air, water, and soil
during its manufacture and use. Wastes containing ethion that
are generated during its manufacture and use are sometimes
disposed of in landfills. Ethion can enter the environment
from these landfills. Ethion also enters the environment from
accidental spills during transport and leaks from storage
Ethion evaporates only slightly into
the air. Ethion that does evaporate can react with oxygen
in the air. Ethion in air is estimated to break down in a
day or two. These breakdown products are not believed to be
If ethion is spilled into a lake or river,
a small portion will dissolve, but most of it will bind to
particles in the water. Ethion can react with water and be
broken down. In a test in an irrigation canal, one-half of
the ethion broke down in 26 days. Laboratory experiments show
that the less acidic the water is, the more rapidly ethion
is broken down.
Ethion binds tightly to soil. This means
it will not move through soil. Bacteria and other microorganisms
(microscopic plants and animals) in the soil break down ethion.
The breakdown in soil is less rapid than in air or water.
Depending on the temperature and type of soil, it can take
anywhere from 1 month to 1 year for half of the ethion in
soil to break down.
Ethion does not seem to be stored or
concentrated in the bodies of people or most animals. It is
not known if ethion is stored or concentrated by plants or
You will find further information about
what happens to ethion in the environment in Chapter 5 of
the toxicological profile.
How might I be exposed to ethion?
The general population may be exposed
to very small amounts of ethion by eating or drinking. Ethion
has been found only rarely in drinking water in the United
States. Ethion has been found on raw foods (fruits, vegetables)
at very low concentrations. These concentrations are usually
far below the maximum limits established by the EPA.
People living near hazardous waste sites
containing ethion or near its manufacturing, processing, or
storage facilities could potentially be exposed. Because of
the chemical properties of ethion, the most likely way a person
would be exposed is by skin contact with soil contaminated
You are most likely to be exposed to
ethion if you are involved in manufacturing or using it. Chemical
plant workers, transport workers, and pesticide applicators
are the major occupational groups that might be exposed to
ethion. People in these groups are mainly exposed by skin
contact, but some exposure can also occur by breathing in
air containing ethion.
You will find further information on
the potential for exposure to ethion in Chapter 5 of the toxicological
How can ethion
enter and leave my body?
Ethion can enter your body through your
lungs if it is in the air you breathe. It can also enter your
body through your stomach if it is in your drinking water
or food. It can also enter through your skin. How much ethion
enters your body depends on how long you are exposed and the
amount to which you are exposed.
Once ethion enters your body, it goes
into your bloodstream and is carried to all the organs in
your body. Ethion is converted by an enzyme in your liver
to its active form, called ethion monoxon. There are other
enzymes in your liver and blood that rapidly break down both
ethion and ethion monoxon. These breakdown products are less
harmful than ethion. Most of these breakdown products quickly
leave your body in the urine. Ethion and its breakdown products
are not stored in your body.
You will find further information on
how ethion enters and leaves your body in Chapter 2.
How can ethion
affect my health?
To protect the public from the harmful
effects of toxic chemicals and to find ways to treat people
who have been harmed, scientists use many tests.
One way to see if a chemical will hurt
people is to learn how the chemical is absorbed, used, and
released by the body; for some chemicals, animal testing may
be necessary. Animal testing may also be used to identify
health effects such as cancer or birth defects. Without laboratory
animals, scientists would lose a basic method to get information
needed to make wise decisions to protect public health. Scientists
have the responsibility to treat research animals with care
and compassion. Laws today protect the welfare of research
animals, and scientists must comply with strict animal care
Ethion is a member of a group of chemicals
called organophosphates. Some of these chemicals can kill
insects and are widely used as insecticides. At higher doses
than those used to kill insects, these chemicals can also
be harmful to people. Ethion can chemically react with an
important enzyme in your brain and nerves called acetyl-cholinesterase
and stop it from working properly. When this happens, signals
sent between your nerve cells and to your muscles are disrupted.
We do not know how much ethion is necessary
to cause harmful effects in people. This is because few people
have been exposed to enough ethion to cause symptoms of poisoning.
If you have been poisoned by ethion, you will suddenly feel
nauseated, anxious, and restless. You may also vomit, have
tearing of the eyes, and heavy sweating. If this happens,
you should seek medical attention immediately. Emergency rooms
have drugs that stop the harmful effects of ethion. Further
symptoms can include loss of bladder control, blurring or
dimness of vision, muscle tremors, and labored breathing.
Severe poisoning can result in coma, inability to breathe,
Poisoning cases have occurred in people
who accidentally drank ethion or who got it on their skin.
If you use ethion in your work, it is extremely important
that you follow all directions printed on the container.
People who have survived poisoning by
ethion make a complete recovery, although this can sometimes
take several months. Ethion poisoning does not appear to cause
permanent damage to the nerves (a condition called "delayed
Volunteers who took capsules containing
0.15 milligrams ethion per kilogram of body weight (0.15 mg/kg)
daily for 21 days showed no harmful effects. In studies where
animals (rats and mice) have been fed ethion, about half the
animals died when given approximately 100 mg/kg. Before the
animals died, they showed signs of harmful effects to their
nervous systems similar to those seen in human poisoning cases.
It is not known if exposure to ethion
can affect fertility in people. Results of experiments done
in animals that were fed ethion did not show any effect on
There is no evidence that exposure to
ethion increases the risk of cancer in people. Rats and mice
that were fed ethion for 2 years had the same rate of cancer
as rats and mice that did not receive ethion. Ethion has not
been classified for carcinogenicity by the Department of Health
and Human Services (DHHS), the International Agency for Research
on Cancer (IARC) or the EPA.
You will find further information on
how ethion may affect your health in Chapter 2 of the toxicological
How can ethion
This section discusses potential health
effects from exposures during the period from conception to
maturity at 18 years of age in humans.
Children playing on or near hazardous
waste sites may be exposed to ethion in soil by skin contact,
accidentally putting soil into their mouths, through hand
to mouth activity, or eating dirt on purpose. They can also
be exposed through food and drink. Since children have more
fruit and fruit drinks in their diets, their exposure to ethion
may be higher than for adults when you adjust for the difference
One case of ethion poisoning occurred
in a 6-month-old boy. He had symptoms of harmful effects on
his nervous system (muscle twitching, lack of coordination,
pinpoint pupils, difficulty breathing). These symptoms are
the same as those seen in adults and can be treated with drugs.
It is not known if there are health effects in adults who
were exposed as children. There is not enough information
to tell if ethion is more harmful to young animals than adult
We do not know whether children differ
from adults in their susceptibility to health effects from
Newborn babies of pregnant animals that
were exposed to very high doses of ethion showed a delayed
development of the skeleton. Animals that were fed ethion
at doses that did not cause symptoms of poisoning did not
show significant effects on the health or development of their
newborn babies. It is not known if ethion exposure to parents
can affect development of the fetus in the womb or the newborn
Ethion and one of its metabolites (a
substance created when something is changed in the body, soil,
or water), ethion monoxon, can probably cross the placenta;
however, no measurements have been made in people or animals.
Ethion and ethion monoxon can appear in breast milk. Ethion
appeared in goat milk after skin exposure in an animal experiment.
Additional information about ethion in breast milk can be
found in Chapters 2 and 5 of the toxicological profile.
How can families reduce the risk of
exposure to ethion?
If your doctor finds that you have been
exposed to significant amounts of ethion, ask whether your
children might also be exposed. Your doctor might need to
ask your state health department to investigate.
It may be possible to carry ethion from
work on your clothing, skin, hair, tools, or other objects
removed from the workplace. This might happen if you work
as a pesticide applicator in agriculture, but no actual incidents
where this has happened have been observed before. You might
contaminate your car, home, or other locations outside work
where children might be exposed to ethion. You should know
about this possibility if you work with ethion.
Your occupational health and safety officer
at work can and should tell you whether chemicals you work
with are dangerous and likely to be carried home on your clothes,
body, or tools, and whether you should be showering and changing
clothes before you leave work, storing your street clothes
in a separate area of the workplace, or laundering your work
clothes at home separately from other clothes. Material safety
data sheets (MSDS) should be found at your place of work for
many of the chemicals used there, as required by the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). MSDS information
should include chemical names and hazardous ingredients, and
important properties, such as fire and explosion information,
potential health effects, how you get the chemical(s) in your
body, how to handle the materials properly, and what to do
in the case of emergencies. Your employer is legally responsible
for providing a safe workplace and should freely answer your
questions about hazardous chemicals. OSHA or your state OSHA-approved
occupational safety and health program can answer any further
questions and help your employer identify and correct problems
with hazardous substances. Your state OSHA-approved occupational
safety and health program or OSHA will listen to your formal
complaints about workplace health hazards and inspect your
workplace when necessary. Employees have a right to safety
and health on the job without fear of punishment.
If you buy over-the-counter pesticide
products to apply yourself, be sure that the products are
in unopened pesticide containers that are labeled and contain
an EPA registration number. Carefully follow the instructions
that are labeled on the pesticide container. In the case of
ethion, it is not intended for indoor use except in greenhouses.
The use of ethion is only permitted for use by proper personnel
and it is illegal for the general public to use this compound
at their residence. Pesticides and household chemicals should
be stored out of reach of young children to prevent unintentional
poisonings. Always store pesticides and household chemicals
in their original labeled containers. Never store pesticides
or household chemicals in containers children would find attractive
to eat or drink from, such as old soda bottles.
Your children may be exposed to ethion
if unqualified people apply pesticides around your home. In
some cases, the improper use of pesticides banned for use
in homes has turned homes into hazardous waste sites. Make
sure that any person you hire is licensed and, if appropriate,
certified to apply pesticides. Your state licenses each person
qualified to apply pesticides using EPA standards and further
certifies each person qualified to apply "restricted use"
pesticides. Ask to see the license and certification. Also
ask for the brand name of the pesticide, an MSDS, the name
of the product's active ingredient(s), and the EPA registration
number. Ask whether EPA has designated the pesticide "for
restricted use" and what the approved uses are. If you feel
sick after the use of ethion, consult your doctor or local
poison control center.
Children can be exposed to pesticides
by playing on a lawn too soon after a pesticide has been applied.
Carefully read and follow the directions on the pesticide
label about how long to wait before re-entering the treated
Is there a medical test to determine
whether I have been exposed to ethion?
Two blood tests are available that can
determine whether you have been exposed to significant amounts
of ethion. These tests can be performed by any hospital or
clinical laboratory. These tests measure the activity of two
enzymes (called plasma cholinesterase and erythrocyte [red
blood cell] acetyl-cholinesterase) that are affected by ethion.
Ethion affects these enzymes at lower levels of exposure than
are necessary to produce harmful effects. This means that
if these enzymes have been affected, you will not necessarily
have effects on your health. Many other insecticides also
affect these enzymes. To determine whether you have been exposed
specifically to ethion, a laboratory test must measure its
breakdown products in your urine. Tests of this type are not
routinely done in hospital laboratories, and your doctor will
have to send a sample to a special laboratory. Both the blood
and urine tests are most accurate if done within a few days
of exposure. These tests cannot tell you if you have been
exposed to ethion if the exposure took place more than 2-3
months before the test is done.
You will find further information on
how you can be tested for exposure to ethion in Chapter 2
of the toxicological profile.
What recommendations has the federal
government made to protect human health?
The federal government develops regulations
and recommendations to protect public health. Regulations
can be enforced by law. Federal agencies that develop
regulations for toxic substances include the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA). Recommendations provide valuable guidelines to protect
public health but cannot be enforced by law. Federal
organizations that develop recommendations for toxic substances
include the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH).
Regulations and recommendations can be
expressed in not-to-exceed levels in air, water, soil, or
food that are usually based on levels that affect animals;
then they are adjusted to help protect people. Sometimes these
not-to-exceed levels differ among federal organizations because
of different exposure times (an 8-hour workday or a 24-hour
day), the use of different animal studies, or other factors.
Recommendations and regulations are also periodically updated as more information becomes available. For the most current information, check with the federal agency or organization that provides it. Some regulations and recommendations for ethion include the following:
Regulations for maximum limits of ethion on food products, ranging from 0.1 to 14 parts per million (ppm), have been established by EPA.
NIOSH recommends that ethion concentrations in workplace air not exceed 0.4 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) for a 10_hour time-weighted average (TWA).
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2000. Toxicological profile for Ethion. 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.