# Why is ethylene oxide dangerous?

Dec 23, 2015

Ethylene oxide is a small cyclic ether that is widely used as a disinfectant.

#### Explanation:

Any compressed gas poses a safety hazard. It turns out that ethylene oxide is pretty nasty stuff. While ethylene oxide has a fairly high boiling point of $10.5$ ""^@C, it is used as a fumigant and as a disinfectant that leaves no residue (it can therefore be used to sterilize equipment that cannot be autoclaved - i.e. BOILED!). It can, however, be fairly safely used in a laboratory by distillation from trap to trap or temporarily stored at $- 78.5$ ""^@C (ethanol/dry ice temperature).

As you probably know, ethylene oxide is the best way to add a 2 carbon chain in organic synthesis. Grignard and lithium reagents add to the ring to produce (after ring opening and work-up) a primary alcohol that has been lengthened by 2 carbons:

$R M g X + {C}_{2} {H}_{4} O \rightarrow R C {H}_{2} C {H}_{2} O M g X$

It has been a long time since I have used it, but I remember that it had the vague smell of sweet sherry (i.e. much nicer than the pungent, penetrating smell of ammonia).