Air toxics and indoor air quality in Australia

State of knowledge report
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4739 4

Part C: Factsheets (continued)

Acrylonitrile (2-propenenitrile)

Substance name:Acrylonitrile (2-propenenitrile)
CASR number: 107-13-1
Molecular formula: C3H3N
Synonyms: Acrylonitrile monomer, cyanoethene, cyanoethylene, propenonitrile, vinyl cyanide, vinylcyanide

Physical and chemical properties

Acrylonitrile is a clear, colourless liquid with a characteristic, onion or garlic-like odour. It evaporates rapidly.

Melting point: -83.6°C
Boiling point: 77.3°C
Density/specific gravity: 0.8004 at 25°C (water = 1 at 4°C)
Vapour pressure: 107.8 mm Hg at 25°C
Vapour density: 1.8 (air = 1)
Flashpoint: -5 to 0°C (open cup)

Acrylonitrile is soluble in water and most common organic solvents such as acetone, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, ethyl acetate, and toluene. Acrylonitrile is a reactive chemical that polymerises spontaneously when heated, or in the presence of a strong alkali, and can explode when exposed to flame. Technical-grade acrylonitrile is more than 99% pure and always contains a polymerisation inhibitor, usually methylhydroquinone. It is incompatible and reactive with strong oxidisers, acids and alkalis; bromine; and amines. It attacks copper.

Common uses

Acrylonitrile is used in Australia as a starting material in the manufacture of polymeric materials such as synthetic fibres, resins, plastics, elastomers and rubbers.

Sources of emissions

Point sources

Point sources in Australia are limited to one shipping terminal and six chemical plants that use the chemical in the manufacture of plastic resins and polymer emulsions.

Diffuse sources, and point sources included in aggregated emissions data

Synthetic fibres, resins, plastics, elastomers and rubbers contain in the order of 0.0001–0.005% residual acrylonitrile, which may be released from the end articles over their life. Acrylonitrile is present in cigarette smoke.

Natural sources

Acrylonitrile is not known to occur as a natural product.

Mobile sources

Acrylonitrile can be found in car exhaust.

Consumer products that may contain acrylonitrile

Synthetic fibres, resins, plastics, elastomers and rubbers are used in a wide range of consumer products such as fabrics, carpets, paints, food containers, toys, bathroom fittings, pens, computers, automotive parts, appliances and telephones.

Health effects

How might I be exposed to acrylonitrile?

The primary source of exposure is through breathing vapours. Exposure is most likely for those working in industries where acrylonitrile is used. Consumers may inhale acrylonitrile contained in contaminated air and tobacco smoke. They may also be exposed to skin contact with acrylonitrile released from textiles or through ingestion of foods that contain the chemical as a result of migration from food containers.

By what pathways might acrylonitrile enter my body?

Exposure to acrylonitrile is likely to be by breathing. Ingestion and absorption through the skin are also possible.

Health guidelines

National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC):

Industrial use of acrylonitrile must be notified to relevant public authorities. Under the National Model Regulations for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances, acrylonitrile requires health surveillance. Acrylonitrile is listed in Schedule 7 of the Australian Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons and must not be possessed, sold or supplied for domestic purposes.

What effect might acrylonitrile have on my health?

Short-term exposure to contaminated air may cause eye, nose, throat and airway irritation, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness and limb weakness, or convulsions, unconsciousness and heart and respiratory failure at high concentrations. Skin contact may result in eczema and sensitisation. Chronic inhalation may cause headache, insomnia, irritability, fatigue and laryngitis, with mild anaemia and jaundice at high concentrations. Acrylonitrile causes tumours in experimental animals, but has not been conclusively linked to an increased risk of cancer in humans.

Environmental effects

Environmental fate

Acrylonitrile is fairly degradable in both surface and groundwater. In the atmosphere, acrylonitrile reacts with hydroxyl radicals, which break down the chemical to formaldehyde and other degradation products in a few days.

Environmental transport

Acrylonitrile evaporates rapidly so it is mainly transported by air. Due to its solubility in water, it may be washed from the air by rain and leached from the soil to groundwater.

Environmental guidelines

There are no national guidelines.

What effect might acrylonitrile (2-propenenitrile) have on the environment?

Acrylonitrile is slightly to moderately toxic to aquatic life. No data are available on effects on land-based animals and plants. It does not accumulate in the food chain.


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