Congenital malformation and maternal occupational exposure to glycol ethers. Occupational Exposure and Congenital Malformations Working Group

Epidemiology. 1997 Jul;8(4):355-63. doi: 10.1097/00001648-199707000-00002.


Glycol ethers are found in a wide range of domestic and industrial products, many of which are used in women's work environments. Motivated by concern about their potential reproductive toxicity, we have evaluated the risk of congenital malformations related to glycol ether exposure during pregnancy as part of a multicenter case-control study, conducted in six regions in Europe. The study comprised 984 cases of major congenital malformations and 1,134 controls matched for place and date of birth. Interviews of the mothers provided information about occupation during pregnancy, sociodemographic variables, and other potential risk factors (medical history, tobacco, alcohol, drugs). A chemist specializing in glycol ethers evaluated exposure during pregnancy, using the job description given by the mother, without knowledge of case or control status. We classified malformations into 22 subgroups. The overall odds ratio (OR) of congenital malformation associated with glycol ether exposure was 1.44 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.10-1.90], after adjustment for several potential confounders. The association with exposure to glycol ethers appeared particularly strong in three subgroups: neural tube defects (OR = 1.94; 95% CI = 1.16-3.24), multiple anomalies (OR = 2.00; 95% CI = 1.24-3.23), and cleft lip (OR = 2.03; 95% CI = 1.11-3.73). In this last subgroup, risk, especially of an isolated defect, tended to increase with level of exposure.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology*
  • Abnormalities, Multiple / chemically induced
  • Abnormalities, Multiple / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cleft Palate / chemically induced
  • Cleft Palate / epidemiology
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Ethers / adverse effects*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Glycols / adverse effects*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / chemically induced
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Logistic Models
  • Matched-Pair Analysis
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Neural Tube Defects / chemically induced
  • Neural Tube Defects / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Registries
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Ethers
  • Glycols