Blog: How Glycols Behave
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How Glycols Behave In the Environment

January 21, 2014

Previous post showed that glycols are produced in largely the same way and require the same petrochemical, heat and water inputs to produce. But how do they behave in the environment—and what happens when humans, animals and ecosystems are exposed?

The following table summarizes important aspects of glycol-related health, safety and environmental issues:


Glycol Health effects Environmental effects
  • Toxic to humans and animals. Harmful or fatal if swallowed. When eaten, converts to oxalic acid, a toxin.
  • Toxic byproducts affect the CNS, heart and kidneys.
  • Fatal if untreated and eaten in large enough amounts.
  • Textile-, plastics-, automotive- airline- and coolant-related waste streams.
  • Antifreeze can be contaminated with heavy metals during use.
  • Breaks down in air in about 10 days; in water or soil in a few weeks.
  • Linked to abnormal reproduction and development in bird species.
  • Poisonous if eaten; irritant when exposed to eyes and skin.
  • Can contaminate consumer products. Has resulted in numerous epidemics of poisoning.
  • Nausea, vomiting, headache, anuria, unconsciousness and damage to liver, kidneys and CNS.
  • Released in textile, plastics, automotive, other industrial waste streams.
  • In water: Low toxicity to aquatic organisms
  • Biodegrades easily. Bioaccumulation not expected.
  • Loading/transport: conducted in closed containers to prevent release from the system
  • Very hazardous (eye contact); slightly hazardous when inhaled.
  • Toxic to kidneys and nervous system in prolonged exposure.
  • Released in textile-, HVAC-, automotive and other industrial waste streams.. 
  • In air: Degrades rapidly (11-hour half-life)
  • In water: Concentration in aquatic organisms low.
  • When eaten, toxicity in humans is very low.
  • Fairly safe but can irritate stomach, skin and eyes and catch fire under the right conditions.
  • Dangers mainly faced by people who use or handle propylene glycol in industrial settings.
  • Tiny amounts pose no known health risks to people or animals other than cats. Larger quantities can cause health damage in humans.
  • Released in food processing-, pharmaceutical- airline and HVAC products and waste streams. 
  • Moves rapidly in soil; biodegradation is an important environmental fate. Degrades rapidly in air. Degrades rapidly in water.
  • Little or no bio-concentration in aquatic organisms.
  • Fire hazard: Can catch fire at 700 degrees F.


Many of the health, safety and environmental risks described here can be reduced or avoided outright by recycling glycols. 

Next Time:  We describe modern glycol recycling methods and why recycling is a good idea from business and environmental points of view.



The future can be cleaner.

At GlyEco, we believe providing information about chemistry-based pollution solutions is good for both the environment and your mind. Our team is dedicated to creating a future with less dirty glycol going to waste. It's a big job... and we are up to the challenge. Using our breakthrough technology, we clean all types of waste glycol, help safeguard the environment and create valuable green products.



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