Questions and Answers about Ethylene
What is EDB?
EDB is a colorless, heavy organic liquid with a mildly sweet
How is it used?
EDB is mainly used in anti-knock (leaded) gasoline mixtures,
particularly in aviation fuel. Other uses include: as a pesticide
and fumigant for grains and fruit; as a solvent for resins, gums,
and waxes; in water-proofing preparations; and in making dyes
Is it still in use?
In Washington State, EDB was registered for use as a soil fumigant
for nematodes (root worms) on berries and potatoes. EDB was removed
from use as a fumigant in the United States in 1983.
By what other names is it known?
Synonyms and trade names for ethylene dibromide include: EDB,
glycol dibromide, Bromofume, Dowfume W 85, Aadibroom, Iscobrome-D,
Nefis, Pestmaster, EDB-85, Soilbrom, Soilfume, Kopfume, 1,2 -dibromoethane
, and ethylene bromide.
Why is EDB being regulated?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law
requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking
water, which do or may cause health problems.
Who regulates EDB?
The Washington State Department of Agriculture regulated the
application of EDB as a pesticide in Whatcom County.
Are there drinking water standards
Yes, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum Contaminant
Level (MCL). MCLs are set considering safety and the ability
of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using
suitable treatment technologies. The MCL for EDB is 0.05 parts
per billion (ppb or ug/liter).
How much is one part per billion?
To visualize one part per billion, imagine 1 ounce compared
to 31 tons or 1 second compared to 32 years.
What treatment methods will remove
EDB from contaminated water?
Granular activated charcoal treatment will remove EDB from contaminated
Can contaminated water be used for
Contaminated water is not recommended for cooking.
Is it harmful to bathe/shower in contaminated
There is no direct information on skin exposure to EDB. However,
when taking a shower or bath in EDB contaminated water, a person
could be exposed to EDB two ways: (1) inhalation of EDB that
has been released into the air and (2) absorption of EDB through
the skin. The health risks depend on the water concentration of
EDB, the water flow rate, the time spent in the shower/bath and
bathroom, and other factors.
What steps can be taken to lower the level of EDB in the
water or air while bathing/showering?
The following steps may reduce inhalation
and/or dermal exposure to EDB while showering/bathing:
- Installing a carbon filter in the showerhead or for the entire
house (they can be bought at most hardware or water treatment
- Turning on an exhaust fan or opening a window in the bathroom
while showering or bathing.
- Reducing the amount of water flowing through the showerhead.
- Reducing the time spent in the shower or bath.
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What are the potential health effects
of drinking water above the MCL for EDB?
Short-term: damage to the liver, stomach, and adrenal
glands along with significant reproductive system toxicity, particularly
Long-term: damage to the respiratory system, nervous
system, liver, heart, and kidneys; cancer.
Will the water hurt animals?
EDB is known to cause reproductive problems in animals, and
is an animal carcinogen. It is not known if animals are at the
same risk as humans, due to differences in consumption, life-span,
weight, and metabolism.
What type of well is most susceptible
Shallow wells, which do not have a good surface seal or are
drawing from an unprotected aquifer, are the most susceptible.
What is a shallow well?
There is no strict definition of a shallow well. Forty (40)
feet has frequently been used as a cut-off point in many groundwater
Are all shallow wells contaminated?
Not all shallow wells are contaminated with EDB. The known areas
of contamination are quite limited and tend to be near former
How long has it been in my well?
The duration of EDB contamination will depend upon when EDB
was used. If your well has current detectable EDB levels the
well has likely been contaminated at least since EDB was removed
from use as a fumigant in 1983.
When was the Health Department first
aware of the problem?
Contamination of wells in Whatcom County was confirmed in 1984.
Notification of well owners and the public was made as soon as
contamination was confirmed.
What does the Health Department plan
to do about it?
There are ongoing studies of groundwater in the area that include
EDB. An effort to expand public education for residents using
private wells is anticipated.
What else is there in my water that
could hurt me?
Shallow, unprotected wells can be contaminated by bacteria,
nitrate and other chemicals that have been applied to the ground.
For more information:
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us
at (360) 676-6724. Ask to speak to an Environmental Health
Specialist in the Water Program.
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