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Reproductive and Developmental Risks from Ethylene Oxide: A Probabilistic Characterization of Possible Regulatory Thresholds

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Ethylene oxide is a gas produced in large quantities in the United States that is used primarily as a chemical intermediate in the production of ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, nonionic surfactants, ethanolamines, glycol ethers, and other chemicals. It has been well established that ethylene oxide can induce cancer, genetic, reproductive and developmental, and acute health effects in animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently developing both a cancer potency factor and a reference concentration (RfC) for ethylene oxide. This study used the rich database on the reproductive and developmental effects of ethylene oxide to develop a probabilistic characterization of possible regulatory thresholds for ethylene oxide. This analysis was based on the standard regulatory approach for noncancer risk assessment, but involved several innovative elements, such as: (1) the use of advanced statistical methods to account for correlations in developmental outcomes among littermates and allow for simultaneous control of covariates (such as litter size); (2) the application of a probabilistic approach for characterizing the uncertainty in extrapolating the animal results to humans; and (3) the use of a quantitative approach to account for the variation in heterogeneity among the human population. This article presents several classes of results, including: (1) probabilistic characterizations of ED10s for two quantal reproductive outcomes—resorption and fetal death, (2) probabilistic characterizations of one developmental outcome—the dose expected to yield a 5% reduction in fetal (or pup) weight, (3) estimates of the RfCs that would result from using these values in the standard regulatory approach for noncancer risk assessment, and (4) a probabilistic characterization of the level of ethylene oxide exposure that would be expected to yield a 1/1000 increase in the risk of reproductive or developmental outcomes in exposed human populations.

Keywords: Ethylene oxide; noncancer risk assessment; reproductive and developmental risk assessment; risk characterization

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: 1: Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA., 2: Gradient Corporation, Cambridge, MA., 3: The Baird Group, Inc., Newton, MA. Current affiliation is Menzie-Cura & Associates, Chelmsford, MA.

Publication date: 2001-08-01

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