A study of ethylene glycol exposure and kidney function of aircraft de-icing workers

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 1997;69(4):255-65. doi: 10.1007/s004200050145.


Ethylene glycol levels were measured in 154 breathing zone air samples and in 117 urine samples of 33 aviation workers exposed to de-icing fluid (basket operators, de-icing truck drivers, leads and coordinators) studied during 42 worker-days over a winter period of 2 months at a Montreal airport. Ethylene glycol as vapour did not exceed 22 mg/m3 (mean duration of samples 50 min). Mist was quantified at higher levels in 3 samples concerning 1 coordinator and 2 basket operators (76-190 mg/m3, 45-118 min). In 16 cases workers' post-shift or next-morning urine contained quantities of ethylene glycol exceeding 5 mmol/mol creatinine (up to 129 mmol/mol creatinine), with most of these instances occurring in basket operators and coordinators, some of whom did not wear paper masks and/or were accidentally sprayed with de-icing fluid. Diethylene glycol was also found in a few air and urinary samples at levels around one tenth those of ethylene glycol. Urinary concentrations of albumin, beta-N-acetyl-glucosaminidase, beta-2-microglobulin and retinol-binding protein were measured and compared over various periods, according to subgroups based on exposure level and according to the frequency of extreme values. These analyses did not demonstrate acute or chronic kidney damage that could be attributed to working in the presence of ethylene glycol. In conclusion, this study does not suggest important health effects of exposure to de-icing fluid in this group of workers. Potential for overexposure exists, however, in certain work situations, and recommendations on preventive measures are given. In addition, these results suggest that other routes of absorption than inhalation, such as the percutaneous route, may be important and that urinary ethylene glycol may be a useful indicator of exposure to ethylene glycol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylglucosaminidase / urine
  • Aircraft
  • Albuminuria / metabolism
  • Ethylene Glycol
  • Ethylene Glycols / adverse effects*
  • Ethylene Glycols / urine
  • Humans
  • Ice
  • Kidney / drug effects*
  • Kidney / physiopathology
  • Kidney Diseases / chemically induced
  • Kidney Diseases / physiopathology
  • Kidney Diseases / urine*
  • Kidney Function Tests
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology
  • Occupational Diseases / urine*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins / urine
  • beta 2-Microglobulin / urine


  • Ethylene Glycols
  • Ice
  • Retinol-Binding Proteins
  • beta 2-Microglobulin
  • Acetylglucosaminidase
  • Ethylene Glycol