Acrolein is a highly flammable liquid mainly used as a chemical intermediate for the manufacture of plastics or colloidal forms of metals.
Acrolein is mainly used as a chemical intermediate for the manufacture of plastics or colloidal forms of metals. It has been used as an additive for perfumes. It is used as a herbicide in irrigation channels to control algae and submerged weed growth. In the past, acrolein was used in military poison gas mixtures, including tear gas.
Substance name: Acrolein
CASR number: 107-02-8
Molecular formula: C3H4O
Synonyms: acrylic aldehyde, acrylaldehyde, acraldehyde, aqualin, Magnacide
Acrolein is a clear, yellowish liquid with a burnt, sweet, pungent odour. It is highly flammable. It has a high vapour pressure and has significant water solubility. Acrolein is considered a volatile organic compound by the National Pollutant Inventory.
Melting Point: -88°C
Boiling Point: 52.5°C
Specific Gravity: 0.843
Vapour pressure: 29.3 - 36.5 kPa at 20°C
Flash point: -18°C
Acrolein is unstable and polymerises in the presence of light or in the presence of alkali or strong acids.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of acrolein emissions in Australia.
Symptoms of single or short-term exposure to acrolein may include irritation to the eyes, skin and the mucous membranes of the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. It can be corrosive. Exposure can lead to decreased pulmonary function, pulmonary oedema (a build up of fluid in the lungs, characterised by severe shortness of breath), and chronic respiratory disease.
Longer term exposure to acrolein may result in general respiratory congestion and eye, nose and throat irritation. Systemic effects to the respiratory, reproductive, neurological and haematological systems may also result.
Entering the body
Acrolein can enter the body by ingestion, inhalation of vapours, or by absorption through the skin or eyes.
Cigarette smoke and vehicle exhaust contain acrolein.
Exposure to acrolein may result from tobacco smoke or breathing air containing tobacco smoke or vehicle exhaust, working in or living near industries where acrolein is manufactured or used to make other chemicals, or by inhaling vapours from overheated cooking oil or grease. Small amounts of acrolein may be found in some foods, such as fried foods and roasted coffee.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standard for acrolein through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants:
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 0.1 parts per million (0.23 mg/m3)
- Maximum short term exposure limit (STEL): 0.3 parts per million (0.69 mg/m3)
These standards are only appropriate for use in workplaces and are not limited to any specific industry or operation. Make sure you understand how to interpret the standards before you use them.
Drinking water guidelines
There is no guideline for acrolein in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
Acrolein has very high or high toxicity to various species of freshwater fish, aquatic invertebrates, algae and aquatic plants. Because of its toxicity to aquatic plants and algae and its relatively rapid dissipation from water, it is used as a herbicide in aquatic systems such as irrigation channels. There is no evidence that it accumulates in living tissues, although studies of high and long-term repeated doses in animals indicate that acrolein causes systemic effects in a number of systems, including respiratory, reproductive, neurological and haematological systems.
Entering the environment
Acrolein can enter the environment as a result of burning trees, cigarettes or fuel. It may be present in the air, water or land. Acrolein may also enter the environment as a result of industrial spills or from hazardous waste sites. Water treated with acrolein for weed control is withheld for a sufficient time for the acrolein to dissipate before it is released to the environment.
Where it ends up
Acrolein will decompose quickly in air (about half will disappear within a day), by reacting with other chemicals or from exposure to sunlight.
Acrolein dissipates rapidly from soil and water by degradation and volatilisation.
The Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality indicate a freshwater Environmental Concern Level of 0.01 µg/L. This is approximately 1000 times lower than lethal levels to the most sensitive organisms.
Acrolein may be present in hazardous waste sites and may be produced as a result of industrial activity. These industries include plastics or colloidal metals manufacture industries.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
Acrolein is present as a product of burning or fuel combustion activities (fuel reduction, bushfires, building fires etc) and from hazardous waste sites. Acrolein may also be present in tobacco smoke.
Acrolein can result from wild or controlled fires.
Acrolein can be produced in vehicle exhaust and as a secondary product through photo-oxidation of hydrocarbon pollutants.
Acrolein is the active constituent in a herbicide product for control of submerged weeds in irrigation systems, but as a Restricted Chemical Product its supply and use is very tightly controlled.
Sources used in preparing this information
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR), ToxFAQs: acrolein, accessed June 2007.
- Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality: Volume 2 - Aquatic Ecosystems. Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, October 2000.
- Environment Canada/Health Canada, May 2000. Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Priority Substances List Assessment Report. Acrolein.
- Merck and Co. 2006, Merck Index, 14th Edition, USA.
- Technical Advisory Panel 2006, Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency, Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS): acrolein, accessed June 2007.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency, Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Website: acrolein, accessed June 2007.
- Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, accessed June 2021.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated October 2017, accessed May 2018