Acute inhalation exposure to propylene oxide vapours can result in respiratory tract irritation, coughing, difficulty in breathing and pulmonary oedema that can possibly lead to pneumonia.
Propylene oxide is produced by the chlorohydrin process, where propylene is reacted with chlorine, or by the hydroperoxide process, where an organic hydroperoxide is used to epoxidize propylene. It is used primarily as an intermediate for the manufacture of polyether polyols in the production of polyurethane foams, and for the manufacture of propylene glycol in the production of unsaturated polyester resins.
Where might propylene oxide be found?
- When propylene oxide is converted to polyether polyols by the process called alkoxylation.
- Fumigation of food stuffs.
- Preparation of biological samples for electron microscopy.
- Propylene oxide can be found in trace amounts in cigarette smoke;
- It is also released from waste incineration and in exhaust fumes.
- Propylene oxide is also released in very small amounts from natural sources such as volcanoes and forest fires.