The principle end use of acrylamide is in water-soluble polymers used as additives for water treatment, enhanced oil recovery, flocculants, paper making aids, thickeners, soil conditioning agents, sewage and waste treatment, ore processing, and permanent-press fabrics. The monomer's use is primarily as a chemical intermediate in the manufacture of the polymer. It is also used in the synthesis of dyes, as a cross-linking agent, in soil conditioning agents, in flocculants, in sewage and waste treatment, in ore processing, in adhesives, in paper and textile coatings, and in permanent press fabrics. Acrylamide is also used in the synthesis of dyes, in copolymers for contact lenses, and the construction of dam foundations, tunnels, and sewers. The largest use for polyacrylamide is in treating municipal drinking water and waste water. The polymer is also used to remove suspended solids from industrial waste water before discharge, reuse, or disposal. Ten to thirty percent of the annual production volume is used in oil-recovery processes in which the polyacrylamides increase water viscosity. Acrylamides also find use in oil-drilling processes to control fluid losses. In the pulp and paper industry, polyacrylamides are used as binders and retention aids for fibres and to retain pigments on paper fibres. They are incorporated in cement to slow the dehydration process to improve structural strength. Methylated polyacrylamide with subsequent radiation curing is used to produce waterproof concrete. Polyacrylamides are incorporated in coatings as dispersants and binders and in water-based paints for pigment suspension and flow. Home appliances, building materials, and automotive parts are coated with acrylamide resins and thermosetting acrylics. Acrylamides are formulated in cosmetics and soap preparations as thickeners and in dental fixtures, hair grooming preparations, and preshave lotions. In the textile industry, polyacrylamides are used to size and shrink-proof material and as water repellents. Minor uses of acrylamide are as latex thickeners, emulsion stabilisers for printing inks, gelling agents for explosives, binders in adhesives and adhesive tape; in the production of diazo compounds; and for gel chromatography and electrophoresis.
Substance name: Acrylamide
CASR number: 79-06-1
Molecular formula: C3H5NO
Synonyms: 2-propenamide, acrylic amide, ethylenecarboxamide, propenoic acid, amide propenamide, acrylamide monomer RCRA waste number U007, UN 2074, vinyl amide.
Acrylamide occurs in crystalline form and in aqueous solutions. It exists as a monomer (individual molecule) or as a polymer (chains of monomers).
Boiling Point: 125°C at 25 mm Hg
Melting Point: 84.5°C
Vapour Density: 2.45
Density: 1.122 at 30°C
Vapour Pressure: 0.007 mm Hg at 25°C
The crystalline monomer is a colourless-to-white, free-flowing crystal that is very soluble in water, alcohol and ether, and is insoluble in benzene and heptane. It is stable at room temperature, but may polymerise violently when melted or in contact with oxidising agents and under ultra-violet light. When heated to decomposition, acrylamide emits acrid fumes and nitrogen oxides. The polymer exists in many forms, soluble and insoluble in water.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of acrylamide emissions in Australia.
Polymerised acrylamide is not toxic, but the monomer can cause peripheral neuropathy. Acrylamide is a probable human carcinogen.
Inhalation of acrylamide causes local effects due to irritation of the mucous membranes, and systemic effects due to the involvement of the central, peripheral and autonomic nervous systems. Symptoms include abnormal fatigue, sleepiness, memory difficulties and dizziness. With severe poisoning, confusion, disorientation and hallucinations may occur. Excessive sweating in the limb extremities is a common observation. Signs of central nervous system effects and local skin involvement may precede peripheral neuropathy by as much as several weeks. Peripheral neuropathy can involve loss of tendon reflexes, impairment of vibration sense, loss of other sensation, muscular wasting in peripheral parts of the extremities. After cessation of exposure, most cases recover, although the course of improvement is prolonged, and can extend over months to years.
Ingestion causes abdominal pain, weakness and tremors.
Skin contact causes local irritation characterised by blistering and loss of skin and of the hands and feet. Acrylamide may be absorbed by the skin which may lead to systemic effects.
Eye contact causes slight injury that repairs within 24 hours.
Entering the body
Acrylamide can be absorbed through unbroken skin, mucous membranes and lungs or by ingestion.
Human exposure to acrylamide is primarily for those working with the product from skin contact and inhalation of dust and vapour. The general public may be exposed through contaminated drinking water from residual monomer in polyacrylamide flocculants used in water treatment.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standard for acrylamide through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants:
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 0.03 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
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines include the following guidelines for acceptable water quality:
- Maximum of 0.0002 milligrams per litre of water for health purposes
Acute (short term) toxic effects may include the death of animals, birds, or fish, and death or low growth rate in plants. Acrylamide has moderate acute toxicity to aquatic life. Chronic (longer term) toxic effects may include shortened lifespan, reproductive problems, lower fertility, and changes in appearance or behaviour. Chronic effects can be seen long after first exposure(s) to a toxic chemical. Acrylamide has moderate chronic toxicity to aquatic life. No data are available on the long-term effects of acrylamide to plants, birds, or land animals.
Entering the environment
Most acrylamide is expected to end up in water including leaching from soil into ground water. Acrylamide is highly mobile in aqueous environments, readily leaches into soil, and is carried great distances in ground water of deep rock aquifers.
Where it ends up
Acrylamide vapours are expected to react in sunlight to produce hydroxyl radicals in the atmosphere. It is also expected to be dissolved in rain and fog due to its high solubility in water.
Acrylamide is biodegradable in surface water and sediments but may not biodegrade in groundwater. Bioconcentration of acrylamide is unlikely because it degrades easily in surface waters and is highly water soluble. Acrylamide is slightly persistent in the aquatic environments.
No national guidelines.
Acrylamide may be released into the environment from waste during acrylamide production and the manufacture of polyacrylamides and other polymers.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
Environmental contamination may result from disposal on land or from leaching of the residual monomer from polyacrylamides. It may also be present in water ways. Acrylamide remains in water after water treatment with polyacrylamides because it is very water soluble and is not readily adsorbed by sediment. Release to water also occurs from acrylamide-based sewer grouting and wastepaper recycling.
No natural sources.
No mobile sources.
Treated water and a broad range of synthetic consumer goods including textiles and paper.
Sources used in preparing this information
- Environmental Chemicals Data and Information Network (accessed, May 1999)
- Technical Advisory Panel (1999), Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- US Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard (accessed, May 1999)
- US EPA Integrated risk Information System (accessed, May 1999)
- US EPA Toxic Chemical Factsheets (accessed, May 1999)
- US National Safety Council Environmental Health Center Chemical Backgrounder Index (accessed, May 1999)
- US National Toxicology Program OH&S (accessed, May 1999)
- US National Toxicology Program RoC (accessed, May 1999)
- 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