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Acrylonitrile

AN, 2-Propenenitrile, Cyanoethylene

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
1,000 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
Disclaimer
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Acrylonitrile is usually found as a colourless or pale yellow liquid which has a sweet smell. It is reactive and flammable and its vapours are explosive. Acrylonitrile is soluble in water and most organic (carbon-containing) solvents. When heated, Acrylonitrile breaks down into toxic cyanide fumes. Acrylonitrile is one of a group of chemicals known as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
What is it used for?
Acrylonitrile is used to make acrylic fibres, resins and rubbers. It is also used in the chemical industry to produce other important chemicals.
Where does it come from?
Releases of Acrylonitrile occur to both air and water from industry producing or using it. It is also released in small amounts in products (such as food packaging) which contain substances made from it. There are not thought to be any natural sources of Acrylonitrile to the environment.
How might it affect the environment?
At normal environmental levels, Acrylonitrile is unlikely to harm wildlife or plants. High levels resulting from a spill are however toxic in both air and water. As a VOC, Acrylonitrile can also be involved in the formation of ground level ozone which can cause damage to crops and materials. It is not considered likely that Acrylonitrile pollution has any effects on the global environment.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Acrylonitrile exposure mainly occurs in the occupational setting and acrylonitrile can enter the body by inhalation of air containing acrylonitrile vapours, by accidental ingestion, or by dermal contact with acrylonitrile. Inhalation of air containing very high levels of acrylonitrile can cause a wide range of adverse health effects including central nervous system damage. Ingestion of acrylamide can cause damage to the nervous system, with symptoms including fatigue, memory problems, dizziness, muscular weakness, numbness in limbs and difficulty walking. Dermal contact with acrylamide may cause skin sensitisation which is evident following re-exposure to the acrylamide. If absorbed through the skin, similar symptoms to those for ingestion can occur. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated acrylamide as a probable carcinogen. However, exposure to acrylamide at normal background levels is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human health.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
Releases of Acrylonitrile are controlled through the UK Pollution, Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations and the UK Surface Waters (Dangerous Substances) Regulations (SI 1997/2560). Acrylonitrile is not listed for authorised use as a pesticide in the UK (including Scotland) in the Pesticide Safety Directorate. As a VOC, levels of Acrylonitrile in air are controlled through the UK National Air Quality Strategy. European Directives which regulate releases of Acrylonitrile include that concerned with emissions of volatile organic compounds from activities using organic solvents (1999/13/EC), that concerned with pollution of the aquatic environment (76/464/EEC) and the Solvents Directive (99/13/EEC). At an international level, Acrylonitrile is regulated through the UN/ECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, the Basel Convention concerning the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous wastes and it is listed as a substance for priority action under the Helsinki Convention which protects the marine environment of the Baltic Sea.