INDUSTRIAL CHEMICALS – PROBABLE CARCINOGEN (IARC 2A)
Epichlorohydrin is a colorless liquid with an irritating, pungent odour.[1,2] It does not occur naturally in the environment; it is a chemical intermediate used to make a wide variety of products. Epichlorohydrin may also be referred to as chloropropylene oxide or 1-chloro-2,3-epoxypropane. There are numerous other synonyms and product names; see the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) for more information.
Epichlorohydrin has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans, with sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals. Studies of mice and rats show increased digestive, respiratory, nasal cavity, and dermal cancers following exposure to epichlorohydrin. One epidemiological study of exposed factory workers showed an excess of respiratory cancers; however there was concomitant exposure to another potentially carcinogenic substance. Some epidemiological studies have shown possible excesses in lung and central nervous system cancers; however results were inconsistent and based on small study numbers.
Additional health effects following short-term exposure to epichlorohydrin may include skin irritation and damage to the liver, kidneys, and/or central nervous system. Long-term exposure may result in eye, skin, and stomach irritation, chromosome aberrations, adverse changes in blood, and cancer.
Regulations and Guidelines
|Canadian Jurisdictions||OEL (ppm)|
|Canada Labour Code||0.5 [sk]|
|AB, MB, NB, NL, NS, ON, PE||0.5 [sk]|
|BC||0.1 [sk, rt]|
|NT, NU, SK||0.5 [sk]|
|QC||2 [sk, em]|
|Other Jurisdiction||OEL (ppm)|
|ACGIH 2020 TLV||0.5 [sk]|
ppm = parts per million
sk = easily absorbed through the skin
stel = short term exposure limit (15 min. maximum)
rt = reproductive toxin
em = exposure must be reduced to the minimum
ACGIH = American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists
TLV = threshold limit value
Canadian environmental guidelines
|BC’s Contaminated Sites Regulation,|
BC Reg 375/96
|Sets vapour standards for the protection of human health:|
Agricultural, urban park, residential use standard: 1 μg/m3
Commercial use standard: 3 μg/m3
Industrial use standard: 9 μg/m3
Parkade use standard: 8 μg/m3
(Vapours derived from soil, sediment, or water)
|Government of Canada’s Indoor Air Reference Levels||1 µg/m3 (critical effect: nasal lesions)||2018|
|Health Canada’s List of Permitted|
|Epichlorohydrin was removed from the List of Permitted Food Additives||2016|
|Cosmetic Ingredients Hotlist||Not Permitted||2010|
μg/g = micrograms per gram
μg/m3 = micrograms per cubic meter
|Health Canada||DSL – high priority substance with greatest potential for exposure||2006|
|Challenge to Industry||Batch 2 (health for ‘oxirane (chloromethyl)’)||2008|
|CEPA||Schedule 1 (‘oxirane (chloromethyl)’)||2011|
|National Classification System|
for Contaminated Sites
|Rank = “High hazard”, potential human carcinogen||2008|
|Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory||Reportable to NPRI if manufactured, processed, or otherwise used at quantities greater than 10 tonnes.||2016|
DSL = domestic substance list
CEPA = Canadian Environmental Protection Act
The 2008 screening assessment concluded that epichlorohydrin meets the CEPA criteria for danger to human life or health (based on the critical effect of carcinogenicity), and also for persistence in air. Epichlorohydrin did not meet the criteria for bioaccumulation potential as stated in the Persistence and Bioaccumulation Regulations, nor did it meet the criteria for persistence in water, soil or sediment.
Epichlorohydrin was not included in other Canadian government guidelines, standards, or chemical listings reviewed.
Epichlorohydrin is primarily used to produce epoxy resins for protective linings in food and beverage cans. Epoxy resins are also used in paints and other coatings, structural composites, printed circuit board laminates, semiconductor encapsulants, tooling, molding, casting, and adhesives.[3,4]
Other products manufactured using epichlorohydrin include phenoxy resins used to make thermoplastic polymers; anion exchange resins and flocculants used to treat drinking and waste water; and resins and polymers used to produce textiles, paper, and cellulose products. Epichlorohydrin is also commonly used as a stabilizer, and to produce synthetic glycerol, a component in manufacturing personal care products, drugs, food, and beverages.
Canadian Production and Trade
In 2006, epichlorohydrin was not manufactured in or imported into Canada at amounts exceeding 100 kg per company. It is likely imported into Canada in small quantities as a residual monomer in products containing epichlorohydrin-derived resins.
Production and trade
|Global Annual Production||903,000 t||2008|
|Canadian Production||Not manufactured in Canada above|
the 100 kg threshold
|Export: None recorded||N/A||2015|
|Import:||15 t of ‘1-chloro-2,3-epoxypropane’||2015|
t = tonne
Environmental Exposures Overview
Environmental exposure to epichlorohydrin may occur through inhalation, dermal absorption, or ingestion. Environmental and consumer product exposures in Canada are expected to be very low, since epichlorohydrin is present only as a residual substance. Measured concentrations of epichlorohydrin in the environment, food, or water in Canada were not available.
There is potential for exposure to epichlorohydrin from food in contact with polyamide-epichlorohydrin resin papers and cans lined with epoxy resin coatings. However, estimates for these types of exposures are low. Low levels of epichlorohydrin have been detected in water. Very low levels of epichlorohydrin may contaminate water after it is used in water treatment to remove suspended solids. Contamination is also possible when epoxy resin coatings leach into water.[1,32,33] However, these levels are expected to be very low.
Health Canada predicts that exposure to epichlorohydrin in indoor or ambient air by inhaling emissions from commercial products (such as epoxy resins, adhesives, coatings, and putties) is negligible.
Residual epichlorohydrin in cosmetic products may lead to exposure via inhalation and dermal routes. Although residual concentrations in these products are unknown and exposure cannot be quantified, it is expected to be low.
Epichlorohydrin is reportable to Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory but no releases have been reported since 2003, when a resin/synthetic rubber company released 0.002 tonnes.
A search for ‘epichlorohydrin’ in the United States Household Products Database produced the following results:
US Household Products Database
|US Household Products 2016|
|Search Term||Quantity||Product Type|
|‘Bisphenol A, epichlorohydrin polymer,|
tall oil fatty acids ester’
|1||Spray enamel (aerosol)|
|‘Bisphenol A, epichlorohydrin polymer’||33||Resins, epoxies, and hardeners|
|‘Bisphenol A, formaldehyde,|
|‘Fatty acids, tall-oil, polymers with bisphenol A,|
diethylenetriamine, epichlorohydrin and
Occupational Exposures Overview
Exposure may occur through inhalation, ingestion, or dermal contact when epichlorohydrin is produced and/or synthesized in occupational settings.
CAREX Canada estimates that approximately 6,600 Canadians are exposed to epichlorohydrin in their workplace. Exposure typically occurs in the following industries: automotive repair and maintenance; paint, coating, and adhesive manufacturing; and miscellaneous manufacturing. The largest exposed occupational groups are other labourers in processing, manufacturing, and utilities, followed by motor vehicle body repairers. Other important occupations that are likely exposed to epichlorohydrin in Canada involve aerospace products and parts manufacturing and plastic products manufacturing.
For more information, see the occupational exposure estimate for epichlorohydrin.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Epichlorohydrin in Drinking Water (2004) (PDF)
- International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) INCHEM. Epichlorohydrin Health and Safety Guide No. 8 (1987)
- International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) INCHEM. Environmental Health Criteria 33 Epichlorohydrin (1984)
- Environment Canada. Summary of Public Comments Received on the Government of Canada’s Draft Screening Assessment Report and Risk Management Scope on Epichlorohydrin (CAS 106-89-8) (2013)
- Bell et al. “Glycerin as a renewable feedstock for epichlorohydrin production: The GTE Process”Clean – Soil Air Water2008;36(8):657-661.
Subscribe to our newsletters
The CAREX Canada team offers two regular newsletters: the biannual e-Bulletin summarizing information on upcoming webinars, new publications, and updates to estimates and tools; and the monthly Carcinogens in the News, a digest of media articles, government reports, and academic literature related to the carcinogens we’ve classified as important for surveillance in Canada. Sign up for one or both of these newsletters below.