• 08.09.11

Glymes: The Next Big Group Of Chemicals That Everyone Is Going To Freak Out About

Just as you’ve eliminated the last little bit of BPA in your life, now it’s time to start getting worried about glymes, the industrial solvent that’s already in your water and soon to be heavily regulated by the EPA.

Glymes: The Next Big Group Of Chemicals That Everyone Is Going To Freak Out About

Conscious consumers know that potentially toxic chemicals are found in many of the products we use every day, and so they spend plenty of time making sure that their toothpaste doesn’t contain triclosan, their water bottles aren’t filled with BPA, and their car seats are free of halogenated flame retardant. Now there’s a new chemical villain with a funny name to be concerned about: glymes.


The EPA announced last month that it plans to start cracking down on the use of glymes, which are often used as solvents and found in brake fluid, paints, lithium batteries, inkjet cartridges, and paint and carpet cleaners. The chemicals are, according to one company that manufactures them, “amongst the strongest solvents available anywhere.”

Under the EPA’s new proposed rule, any company that plans to manufacture, import, or process glymes for use in a consumer product (and in some cases, any use at all) has to notify the agency, which will evaluate the situation and potentially eliminate or limit the use of the dreaded glymes.

So why should we be worried about glymes? Scientific American explains that two types of glymes (monoglyme and diglyme) have triggered developmental and reproductive damage in studies performed on rodents. Another type of glyme (ethylglyme) exhibited the potential for gene mutation in addition to developmental toxicity. And you’re already at risk for exposure.

Diglyme and ethylglyme can be found in drinking water, and humans are exposed to monoglyme when handling printed paper, polishing clothes, and breathing in emissions from factories, vehicle exhaust, and paint cans. The other 11 glymes have not been shown to cause adverse health effects, but the EPA still plans to restrict them because they have a similar chemical structure compared to the dangerous glymes.

The EU already regulates products that contain diglyme and monoglyme with labels that say “may cause harm to the unborn child,” or “may impair fertility.” The EPA, on the hand, doesn’t have plans for any labeling–and the glymes regulations still have to go through a final review. But if the rules pass, the (admittedly awkward) phrase “glymes-free” may become a popular label.

[Image: Flickr user Daniel R. Blume]


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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.