ToxFAQsTM for Ethion
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This fact sheet answers the most frequently
asked health questions about ethion. For more information,
you may call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737.
This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous
substances and their health effects. 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.
Exposure to ethion
happens mostly from skin contact or breathing contaminated
air, but may also occur from eating contaminated food
or drinking contaminated water. Ethion affects the function
of the central nervous system and at high doses can cause
nausea, blurring or dimness of vision, muscle tremors,
and labored breathing. Ethion has been found in at least
9 of 1,577 National Priorities List sites identified by
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is ethion?
Ethion is an organophosphate pesticide.
Pure ethion is a clear to yellowish liquid with an unpleasant
sulfur-like smell. It does not occur naturally in the environment.
Ethion is used in agriculture, mainly
to control insects on citrus trees, but also on cotton, fruit
and nut trees, and some vegetables. It may also be used on
lawns and turf grasses, but it is not used in the home for
What happens to ethion when it enters the
- Ethion enters the air, water, and soil during its manufacture
- Ethion in air lasts a short time. It is slowly broken
down in water.
- Ethion binds strongly to soil particles and it does not
move from soil to underground water. Ethion in soil breaks
down in 1-12 months.
- It is not known if ethion levels can build up in plants
How might I be exposed to ethion?
- Working in industries that make ethion or as a pesticide
- Eating raw fruits or vegetables that have been treated
with ethion, but levels are very low.
- Skin contact with soil containing ethion.
How can ethion affect my health?
Ethion affects the nervous system. Exposure
to high levels of ethion can nausea, sweating, diarrhea, loss
of bladder control, blurring or dimness of vision, muscle
tremors, and labored breathing. Severe poisoning may result
in coma, inability to breathe, and death.
How likely is ethion to cause cancer?
We do not know if ethion can cause cancer
in humans. No cancer was seen in animals that ate ethion over
a long period of time.
How does ethion affect children?
We do not know if children are more sensitive
to ethion than adults. We do not know if ethion can affect
the ability of people to have children or if it causes birth
defects. Some birth defects have been seen in the babies of
animals that ate ethion during pregnancy.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to
- Children should not play on grasses that were recently
treated with ethion. Carefully follow the directions on
the pesticide label about how long to wait for re-entering
the treated area.
- People working in a factory making ethion and people using
ethion should wash clothing, skin, and hair before going
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been
exposed to ethion?
- The breakdown products of ethion can be measured in your
- There are tests to measure the activity of the enzymes
(acetylcholinesterases) that are affected by ethion. These
tests cannot tell if you were exposed to ethion because
a number of chemicals also affect these enzymes.
- Neither of these tests are routinely available in your
doctor's office, but samples can be sent to a special laboratory.
Has the federal government made recommendations to
protect human health?
The EPA has established regulations for the maximum limits of ethion on food products, ranging from 0.1 to 14 parts per million (0.1 to 14 ppm).
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
Office of Innovation and Analytics, Toxicology Section
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.