Acrylonitrile is used in manufacturing acrylic fabrics and carpets. It is used extensively in the manufacture of synthetic fibres, resins, plastics, elastomers, and rubber for a variety of consumer goods such as textiles, dinnerware, food containers, toys, luggage, automotive parts, small appliances, and telephones. It is also used in fumigants.
Substance name: Acrylonitrile (2-propenenitrile)
CASR number: 107-13-1
Molecular formula: C3H3N
Synonyms: Vinyl cyanide, 2-Propenenitrile, cyanoethylene, CAN, Fumigrain, propenonitrile, AN miller's fumigrain, TL 314, VCN (not to be confused with VCM), propenitrile, acrylonitrile monomer.
Colourless to pale yellow liquid with a mild pyridine-like odour. It evaporates rapidly.
Boiling Point: 77.3°C
Melting Point: -82°C
Flash Point: 0°C open cup
Vapour Pressure: 107.8 mm Hg at 25°C
Density/Specific Gravity: 0.8004 at 25/4°C
Vapour Density: 1.9
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.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of acrylonitrile emissions in Australia.
Acrylonitrile is a central nervous system depressant and a respiratory irritant. Within the body it is converted to cyanide and many of the effects are related to the effect cyanide has in preventing the absorption of oxygen into the blood. Conversion is slow so effects may not occur for a number of days. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, feelings of apprehension and nervous irritability, muscle weakness, cyanosis, and convulsions sneezing, nausea, vomiting, weakness. Acrylonitrile is an irritant to the skin and eyes and will cause damage with prolonged exposure and is a suspected causative agent of toxic epidermal necrosis.
Entering the body
Exposure to acrylonitrile is likely to be by breathing. Ingestion, absorption through the skin or absorption of the vapours through the eyes is also possible.
The primary source of exposure is through breathing vapours. Exposure is most likely for those working in industries where acrylonitrile is used. Studies have detected acrylonitrile in some houses.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standard for acrylonitrile through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants:
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 2 parts per million (4.3 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 acrylonitrile in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
Acute toxic effects may include the death of animals, birds, or fish, and death or low growth rate in plants. Acute effects are seen two to four days after animals or plants come in contact with a toxic chemical substance. Acrylonitrile has high acute toxicity to aquatic life. No data are available on the short-term effects of acrylonitrile on plants, birds, or land animals.
Chronic 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. Acrylonitrile has high chronic toxicity to aquatic life. No data are available on the long-term effects of acrylonitrile on plants, birds, or land animals.
The concentration of acrylonitrile found in fish tissues is expected to be somewhat higher than the average concentration of acrylonitrile in the water from which the fish was taken.
Entering the environment
Acrylonitrile evaporates rapidly so the main transport mechanism is by air. Due to its solubility in water it may be washed from the air by rain and leached from the soil to groundwater.
Where it ends up
The dominant tropospheric chemical loss process for acrylonitrile is by reaction with hydroxyl radicals which is expected to break down acrylonitrile in a few days. The products of the hydroxyl radical reaction in the presence of nitrogen oxides are formaldehyde and formyl cyanide.
No national guidelines.
The primary stationary sources are likely to be synthetics, paint, and furniture and fixtures manufacturing facilities where this chemical is used.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
Sub-threshold facilities. Acrylonitrile is present in cigarette smoke.
Acrylonitrile is not known to occur as a natural product.
Acrylonitrile can be found in car exhaust.
Acrylonitrile is used as an intermediate in the manufacture of a wide range of consumer products, but undergoes chemical reaction to different substances during the manufacturing process.
Sources used in preparing this information
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (accessed, May 1999)
- Chemfinder by Cambridgesoft (accessed, May 1999)
- Environmental Chemicals Data and Information Network (accessed, May 1999)
- New Jersey Department of Health Right to Know Program, TRIFacts: Acrylonitrile (accessed, June, 1999)
- Technical Advisory Panel (1999), Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- US Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard (accessed, May 1999)
- US National Safety Council Environmental Health Center Chemical Backgrounder Index (accessed, May 1999)
- USEPA Integrated risk Information System (accessed, May 1999)
- Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, accessed July 2018.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated October 2017, accessed May 2018