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Participation in the implementation of certain measures of the interministerial action plan "Glycol Ethers (GEs)" of the Directorate General of Health and additional solicited requests.

Glycol ethers, molecules making up a family of over 80 derivatives, are used in a wide range of everyday products and solvents due to their particular physico-chemical properties (amphiphiles, i.e. comprising a hydrophile part and a hydrophobe part). Some of these are found in aqueous paints, wooden floor varnishes, household products, hair dyes, cosmetic products, etc.


It was after 1995 that a large number of measures were taken to limit the use of certain glycol ethers, toxic for reproduction. Following recommendations drawn up in the Inserm collegial expert assessment in 1999, by the French High Council for Public Hygiene in 2002, and the many studies and/or analyses carried out by research bodies or consumer associations, the government wanted an action plan established on this theme, involving a reinforcement of regulations in the workplace and proposals for classifying new substances as CMR (carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins).

The government involved many organisations in this plan, including Afsset, which is responsible for:

 conducting studies or ensuring that studies were properly conducted enabling the assessment of public exposure to glycol ethers;
 reviewing current scientific knowledge of glycol ethers.

The action plan also intends to improve information for the general public about the risks associated with the use of chemical substances during household activities.

On 14 October 2003, Afsset received a solicited request from the Directorate General for Health and Directorate for Economic Studies and Environmental Evaluation (D4E) to implement, over several years, certain provisions of the interministerial action plan on glycol ethers (GEs). In this context, Afsset is responsible for ensuring that studies are carried out enabling the assessment of public exposure to GEs (by measuring the most commonly used GEs in indoor air; by measuring GE emissions when paint is applied in realistic conditions; by carrying out studies giving greater insight into the release of GE vapours from furniture and property) and for reviewing current scientific knowledge of GEs (by analysing the consequences of the recommendations of the Inserm collegial expert assessment of 1999 and new toxicological data since this assessment; by conducting an overview of population exposure to GEs, through all channels).

Afsset also received solicited requests in 2004 and 2005 to respond to various points about glycol ethers, particularly from the Directorate General for Employment:

 to expand work and research under way to the professional population; 
 to review current substitutes for GEs;
 to issue an opinion on the health suitability of the 0.5% limit of beta impurity of PGME in products used today. This impurity is classified as a category 2 reprotoxic CMR and should therefore not be present in preparations at over 0.5%.

Working method

Involvement in the governmental action plan and expansion to the professional population

The initial mandate contained two types of solicited request. Firstly, the implementation of research entrusted to Afsset partners, such as the CSTB, ADEME, Inserm or universities and secondly, a review of new recommendations following the overview of general population exposure and professional population exposure to glycol ethers. To this end, Afsset called upon its committees of specialised experts to conduct a collegial and contradictory expert assessment. The overview will be carried out on the basis of the literature and research results in place since 2004. The Afsset Committee of Specialised Experts "Assessment of risks associated with chemical substances" is monitoring all of these initiatives, which have been under way since 2004, and are due to be completed in 2007.

 Substitution of glycol ethers

Afsset called upon the RPA company to review the different substitution means for glycol ethers in the occupational environment. The results are expected in the second half of 2007.

 Health suitability of the beta impurity limit of PGME in products
Afsset called on its Committee of Specialised Experts (CSE) "Assessment of risks associated with chemical substances" to answer this question. A rapporteur was appointed in May 2006 to assess the specific health risks of beta impurity (1PG2ME and 1PG2MEA) depending on the procedure adopted at European level in the framework of Council Regulation (EEC) 793/93. The results will be published in the first half of 2007. 


In 2003, Afsset's Scientific Committee selected a CSTB project on the measurement of four glycol ethers (EGBE, EGBEA, 2PG1ME and 2PG1MEA) in indoor air within the framework of the French Observatory for Indoor Air Quality (OQAI) campaign between October 2003 and December 2005. The results were published in December 2006. The project was monitored and funded by ADEME. Moreover, as part of action 14 of the PNSE 2004-2008, the reinforcement and extension of activities conducted by the OQAI will lead to measures in a wider variety of indoor environments (home, public place, school, office).

Afsset and the CSTB also worked together on studies on glycol ether emissions from paints and furniture/property. In this context, Afsset asked the CSTB to carry out a study to characterise glycol ether emissions when a room in a house is being painted. The CSTB adopted a three-stage approach: i) a test in an emission chamber, with characterisation of the main volatile organic compounds (VOCs) up to 28 days (laboratory approach); ii) a test in a control room of the MARIA house, with monitoring of the main VOCs up to 28 days (in situ approach); iii) a simplified modelling of changes in GE concentrations so as to study the influence of the air renewal rate. The study specified the nature of GEs emitted when painting and characterised how their concentrations changed over time. This additional knowledge on the emission potential of paint will be useful for the overview of population exposure to glycol ethers (results expected at the end of 2007).

Furthermore, studies giving insight into the release of GE vapours from furniture and property fall within the scope of other work coordinated by Afsset on volatile organic compounds. These results will also be available in 2007.

Updating of the collegial expert assessment published in 1999 by Inserm got under way in early autumn 2004. The group of scientists appointed by Inserm to update this collegial expert assessment analysed information that was newly available in 2005 on the toxicity of old or new glycol ethers. On this basis, a new expert assessment was published by Inserm in June 2006.

The studies' results, subject to the information available and service timeframes, will be made available to the working group which will be able to issue the first results in 2007.

Activity 2007

Afsset is continuing the work under way on GEs in its activity programme 2007, with an overview of population exposure to GEs. A working group from the CSE "chemical substances" and "air environments" was formed in September 2006 to address this issue. Under the responsibility of Afsset, this working group will analyse information on products and exposures which will be made available and carry out an overview in order to add to already existing information on GEs in products. In 2006, Afsset called on its partner organisations (INERIS, CAP-TV, AFSSAPS, INRS, etc.) to use various databases and to carry out surveys. All of these studies will be made available to the working group.

With regards to GE exposure, in addition to the analyses already conducted or under way, Afsset may call on other partners, at the request of the CSE "chemical substances", to measure emissions (CSTB, CTBA; consultation centres for professional diseases; air quality associations, etc.).


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