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Pesticide Information Profiles
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EXTOXNET primary files maintained and archived at Oregon State University
TRADE OR OTHER NAMES: The active ingredient ethephon is found in a variety of commercial herbicides. Trade
names for products containing ethephon include Arvest, Bromeflor, Etheverse, Flordimex, Flordimex T-Extra, Cerone,
Etherel, Chipco Florel Pro and Prep (223, 316).
REGULATORY STATUS: Ethephon is a general use pesticide (GUP). Check with specific state regulations for local
restrictions that may apply. Products containing ethephon carry the Signal Words "Danger", "Warning", or "Caution"
depending on the product (223).
CHEMICAL CLASS: organic phosphorus compound / ethylene generator / plant growth regulator
INTRODUCTION: Ethephon is a plant growth regulator. Its use varies with plant species, chemical concentration, and
time of application. Ethephon regulates phases of plant growth and development by application to various growth sites (1).
It is currently registered in the U.S. for use on apples, barley, blackberries, bromeliads, cantaloupes, cherries, coffee, cotton,
cucumbers, grapes, guava, macadamia nuts, ornamentals, peppers, pineapples, rye, squash, sugarcane, tobacco, tomatoes,
walnuts, wheat, etc. (1, 223, 207). Ethephon's mode of action acts via liberation of ethylene, which is absorbed by the plant
and interferes in the growth process (1). It is also used in the acceleration of ripening of fruits and vegetables (302).
Ethephon comes in RTU (ready-to-use), emulsifiable concentrate and aqueous solution formulations (223, 316). It may also
be used in combination with Terpal (with mepiquat-chloride) and Terpal C (chlormequat-chloride) (223).
- Acute Toxicity: The amount of ethephon that is lethal to one-half (50%) of experimental animals fed the material is
referred to as its acute oral lethal dose fifty, or LD50. The acute oral toxicity of ethephon in rats ranged from 3400
mg/kg (313) to 4229 mg/kg (242, 223, 302). Acute animal toxicity studies in a few species show that via the oral and
dermal routes, ethephon is relatively non-toxic except in hens. An acute study with rats showed an oral LD50 of 1.6 g/kg
(EPA toxicity category III). An acute dermal study using rabbits showed a dermal LD50 of greater than 5 g/kg (EPA
toxicity category III) (315). In a rat study, ethephon was administered by gavage for 13 weeks to 20 rats per sex per
dose level at 0, 50, 100, and 200 mg/kg/day. Plasma cholinesterase and brain cholinesterase activity were found to be
different from the controls at all dose levels. However, red blood cell cholinesterase activity did not differ from the
controls in either sex of any dose group (315). The acute oral LD50 of 24% ethephon solution in propylene glycol for
rats was reported to range between 3,400 mg/kg (RTECS, 1985) to 4,229 mg/kg (Hartly and Kidd, 1987) (302). The
dermal LD50 for the same 24% solution for rabbits was 5,730 mg/kg. Irritation of mucous membranes in rabbits was
also reported. The same study indicated that the inhalation LC50 for rats was greater than 5 mg/l of air (1, 242, 313).
EPA reported the acute oral LD50 to be 1.6 g/kg for rats; the acute dermal LD50 for rabbits to be greater than 5 g/kg;
and the primary skin irritation score for rabbits to be 6.75 (corrosive) (316). The oral LD50 for mice fed technical
ethephon was 2850 mg/kg; 5,000 mg/kg for rabbits; 4,200 mg/kg for guinea pigs; and an unreported 4,200 mg/kg for
mammals (313). In a dog study, ethephon was administered in the food to 4 dogs per sex per dose level at 0, 5.0, 25.0,
or 187.5 mg/kg/day for 13 weeks. Plasma cholinesterase activity was depressed in both males and females at all dose
levels. Red blood cell activity was depressed in the males (at all dose levels except 5.0 mg/kg/day at 8 weeks) and at the
25.0 and 187.5 mg/kg/day dose levels in the females. Brain cholinesterase activity was significant only in females dosed
at 187.5 mg/kg/day (315).
- Chronic Toxicity: A chronic toxicity/oncogenicity study using Swiss albino mice included 85 mice fed diets containing
0, 4.5, 45, or 150 mg/kg/day of ethephon for 78 weeks. Inhibition of plasma cholinesterase activity was significant at the
45 and 150 mg/kg/day dose levels in males and females. The No Observable Effect Level (NOEL) for plasma
cholinesterase activity is 4.5 mg/kg/day for both sexes and the Lowest Effect Level (LEL) for this effect was 45
mg/kg/day for both sexes (315). There appeared to be a dose-related decrease in red blood cell cholinesterase activity in
females. There was significant depression in RBC cholinesterase activity at the 45 and 150 mg/kg/day dose levels, while
females in the 4.5 mg/kg/day dose groups exhibited depression in RBC cholinesterase activity at 52 weeks and 78 weeks,
which was not considered statistically significant. Because of the apparent dose-related decrease in RBC cholinesterase
activity in females in the 4.5 mg/kg/day dose group, the NOEL for this effect in females is considered to be below 4.5
mg/kg/day, the lowest dose tested (315). RBC cholinesterase activity was nominally decreased in males at the mid- and
high-dose groups. Brain cholinesterase activity was not different from control values at any dose level in males or
females. In two-year feeding studies, rats receiving greater than or equal to 12,500 mg/kg diet showed no ill-effect
except at top dose levels toward the end of the trial (242). The highest dose without adverse effects reported in rats was
375 mg/kg/day for 90 days (1).
- Reproductive Effects: A developmental toxicity study was conducted on New Zealand white rabbits. The doses tested
were 50, 100, or 150 mg/kg. The teratogenic NOEL was greater than 50 mg/kg/day (LDT or lowest dose tested). The
number of litters at termination of the study were insufficient to determine teratogenic effects at the 100 and 150
mg/kg/day levels. The embryotoxic NOEL was 50 mg/kg/day (LDT); an increased average number of resorptions
occurred. The maternal toxic NOEL was 100 mg/kg, while the maternal LEL was 250 mg/kg (HDT or highest dose
tested); decreased body weight, food consumption and increased mortality occurred at this dose level. The fetal toxic
NOEL was reported to be 50 mg/kg/day. The fetotoxic LEL was 100 mg/kg/day, at which decreased fetal viability was
reported (314). In another study, doses of 0, 200, 750, and 1,500 ppm of 39% ethephon were tested in a multigeneration
rat reproduction study. The NOEL was reported to be greater than 1500 ppm (highest dose tested) (314).
- Teratogenic Effects: The NOEL for rat teratogenic effects is 600 mg/kg/day, while in the rabbit, the NOEL was
reported to be 50 mg/kg/day based on fetal resorptions at higher dose levels tested (314, 316).
- Mutagenic Effects: Ethephon studies in Salmonella typhimurium indicated no mutagenic effect up to 1,000
micrograms/100 microliters, without enzyme activation (316).
- Carcinogenic Effects: A carcinogenicity study was conducted in mice using 70.6-72.1% ethephon. The doses were
administered in feed at 0, 15.5, 156 or 1630 mg/kg/day to CD-1 mice for 78 weeks. No dose-related evidence of
carcinogenicity/oncogenicity was reported (314).
- Organ Toxicity: No information currently available.
- Fate in Humans and Animals: No information currently available.
- Effects on Birds: Data indicate that technical-grade ethephon is slightly toxic on an acute oral basis to bobwhite quail,
and slightly toxic on a subacute dietary basis to bobwhite quail and mallard ducks. The acute oral LC50 in bobwhite quail
is from 596 to 804 mg/kg. The acute oral LC50 is 3,750 ppm for mallard ducks and greater than 2,160 ppm in bobwhite
quail. The average acute oral toxicity for formulated products is greater than 10,000 ppm in bobwhite quail, or
practically non-toxic (315, 316). Another source reported the oral LD50 for bobwhite quail to be 1,000 mg/kg (242).
The chronic toxicity LC50 for birds was reported to be 804 mg/kg for quail and 3,750 ppm for ducks (223); and the
LC50 (8 days) for mallard ducks was greater than 10,000 mg/kg diet.
- Effects on Aquatic Organisms: Laboratory and field studies indicate that ethephon is slightly toxic to fish. Studies
indicated LC50 values for fish of 170 mg/l for rainbow trout; and 180 mg/l for bluegill sunfish. Also, a 96-hour LC50 for
rainbow trout ranged from 254 mg/l to 350 mg/l and for bluegill sunfish 222 mg/l to 300 mg/l (Worthing and Hance,
1991) (1, 242,316).
- Effects on Other Animals (Nontarget species): Two studies using ethephon were conducted in humans. In the first
study, some symptoms characteristic of anticholinesterase activity were observed. Five humans of each sex were dosed
with ethephon at an average dose level of 1.8 mg/kg/day. Subjects receiving the test compound reported the following
symptoms and/or signs; sudden onset of diarrhea or an urgency of bowel movements, stomach cramps or gas and
increased urgency or frequency of urination, and either an increase or decrease in appetite. None of the control subjects
had complaints similar to the test group. Plasma CHE and RBC CHE activities were similar to or higher than initial
values in test subjects (315). In the second human study, 10 humans of each sex were administered ethephon at 0.5
mg/kg/day for 16 days, followed by a 2-week recovery period. Dose related effects occurred in plasma cholinesterase
activity, but not in red blood cell cholinesterase activity. The effect was reversible within 15 days. When the control
group and test groups were compared, the decreased plasma cholinesterase activity was statistically significant. No
dose-related effects were seen in hematology, blood chemistry, or urine analysis. Based on this study, the NOEL for
plasma cholinesterase inhibition in humans is less than 0.5 mg/kg/day (315). Ethephon usage has resulted in four cases of
skin injury (irritation) reported from 1980 through 1986 in California due to exposure to field residues (315). Ethephon
is considered relatively non-toxic to honeybees (1, 315).
- Breakdown of Chemical in Soil and Groundwater: Ethephon was found to have low to moderate mobility in soils
ranging in texture from loamy sand to peat and silt loam based on soil thin layer chromatography tests. Therefore, the
potential for contamination of groundwater appears to be low to moderate (315). In soil, rapid degradation to
phosphoric acid, ethylene, and chloride ions was reported (Hartley and Kidd, 1987) (1, 302).
- Breakdown of Chemical in Surface Water: No information currently available.
- Breakdown of Chemical in Vegetation: In plants, ethephon rapidly degrades to phosphate, ethylene, and chloride (1,
315). Ethephon and the ethylene gas it produces are the major metabolites in plants (315). Residues of monochloroacetic
acid may be found in ethephon-treated commodities. Monochloroacetic acid is a potential degradation product of an
impurity in ethephon, monochloroethyl ester of (2-chloroethyl)-phosphonic acid (315).
PHYSICAL PROPERTIES AND GUIDELINES
- Appearance: colorless solid
- Chemical Name: 2-chloroethylphosphonic acid (IUPAC, CA) (1)
- CAS Number: 16672-87-0
- Molecular Weight: 144.5
- Water Solubility: readily soluble in water
- Solubility in Other Solvents: readily soluble in methanol, ethanol, isopropanol, acetone, ether and other polar organic
solvents. Slightly soluble in non-polar solvents such as benzene and toluene (1)
- Melting Point: 74-75 degrees C (165-167 degrees F) (1, 242, 313, 314, 302)
- Vapor Pressure: <10 to the minus 7 mbar at 20 degrees C (1); 7.5 x 10 to the minus 5 mmHg at 20 degrees C (302)
- Partition Coefficient: Not Available
- Adsorption Coefficient: Not Available
- ADI: 0.05mg/kg b.w.
- MCL: Not Available
- RfD: 0.005 mg/kg/day
- PEL: Not Available
- HA: Not Available
- TLV: Not Available
P.O. Box 120142
T.W. Alexander Drive
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
References for the information in this PIP can be found in Reference List Number 10
DISCLAIMER: The information in this profile does not in any way replace or supersede the information on the pesticide
product label/ing or other regulatory requirements. Please refer to the pesticide product label/ing.