Many of the products we use on a daily basis contain dangerous, toxic chemicals—phthalates, parabens, flame retardants, formaldehyde and more—that negatively affect our health. It’s always a positive step when the Environmental Protection Agency takes action against a harmful chemical, but the EPA’s recent announcement that it will crack down on the manufacture of glymes has most of us scratching our heads. What’s a glyme?
Glymes are used to make, among other things, prescription drugs. Photo By Ian Sheddan/Courtesy Flickr.
A strong solvent, glymes are used to make a variety of products, including prescription drugs, lithium batteries, brake fluid, carpet cleaners and circuit boards. Glymes belong to the family of chemicals known as “glycol ethers” and are, according to biochemist and senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund Richard Denison, “a quite nasty group of chemicals.” Recent studies have shown that two types of glymes, monoglyme and diglyme, cause reproductive and developmental problems in rats. A study of female industrial workers from the late 1980s and early 1990s also linked exposure to diglyme from mixtures of ethylene-based glycol ethers to a pattern of miscarriages among women in the semiconductor industry. Monoglyme and diglyme have also been linked to suppressed bone marrow and atrophy (or wasting away) of the spleen and thymus gland.
Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA has proposed a new rule that would, if adopted, allow the EPA to restrict new uses of 14 different types of glymes in the U.S. marketplace. Under the rule, manufacturers would be required to get the EPA’s approval before using glymes in any new application; the EPA might also require manufacturers to test their products for risk before obtaining approval. If passed, it wouldn’t be the first time that the EPA has used the “significant new use rule,” which allows the EPA to regulate a substance when it believes that significant public harm could arise from further exposure. In the past ten years, the EPA has issued 47 of these rules to regulate 360 chemicals.