What is ethylene glycol (EG) toxicity?

Updated: Dec 05, 2017
  • Author: Daniel C Keyes, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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Answer

Ethylene glycol is one of several toxic alcohols that have medical and toxicological importance; the other principal ones are methanol and isopropanol (see Alcohol Toxicity). If untreated, ingestion of ethylene glycol can be fatal.

Ethylene glycol is the major ingredient of almost all radiator fluid products in the United States. It is used to increase the boiling point and decrease the freezing point of radiator fluid, which circulates through the automotive radiator. These changes to the boiling and freezing points result from the colligative properties of the solute (ie, they depend on the number of particles in the solution). Hence, ethylene glycol is added to prevent the radiator from overheating or freezing, depending on the season.

Fluorescein dye is often added to radiator fluid to help mechanics identify the source of a radiator leak. The fluorescein in the fluid fluoresces when viewed under ultraviolet light.

Ethylene glycol tastes sweet, which is why some animals are attracted to it. Many veterinarians are familiar with ethylene glycol toxicity because of the frequent cases in dogs and cats that have licked up radiator fluid.


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