Acrylamide

Acrylamide is a white, odourless crystalline solid that generates a vapour in cooking , manufacturing and purification processes.

Protection

Exposure to acrylamide mainly occurs through inhalation or direct contact with the skin or eyes.

Where possible you should not use acrylamide, or use other, safer products that don’t contain it.

If you have to work with acrylamide you must:

  • use ventilation
  • minimise vapours and mists, eg with automated debagging equipment
  • isolate high exposure tasks, eg with enclosure and extraction methods
  • use the right personal protective equipment (PPE), eg respirators, overalls, safety goggles, chemical resistant clothing and gloves
  • train workers to fit, use and maintain PPE
  • have safety equipment available, eg eye wash and showers
  • do air monitoring regularly
  • always follow the advice in safety data sheets and on product labels.

In the event of suspected exposure, call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126.

Uses

Acrylamide can be created by the hydrolysis of acrylonitrile by nitrile hydratase. It is soluble in water, ethanol, ether and chloroform. Acrylamide occurs naturally in some foods and generally results from high heat cooking processes. Acylamide is found in tobacco smoke used to manufacture polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers used in water purification and sewage treatment, paper production, and some cosmetics and soap preparations. It is also used in molecular biology laboratories and in the formulation of acrylamide grouting agents.

Harms

Acrylamide is a very strong neurotoxin affecting the nervous system.  It is also a skin and respiratory irritant.

The potential for harm depends on concentration and duration of use. Brief (acute) exposure to high concentrations of acrylamide can cause drowsiness and hallucinations, with the potential for symptoms of motor and sensory peripheral neuropathy such as weakness, numbness or pain in the hands or feet.

Long term (chronic) exposure to acrylamide through inhalation can lead to nerve damage, resulting in excessive sweating, especially of extremities.  It can also lead to neurological basis of behavioural changes, slurred speech, weight loss with normal appetite and fatigue. Direct contact with acrylamide after a long period of time can lead to skin sensitisation that may result in a red and itchy rash (contact dermatitis).

Other consequences which have been demonstrated in animals following repeated exposure, include carcinogenicity and reproductive effects. However, these evidence is not convincing enough to establish a causal link between acrylamide and carcinogenicity and reproductive effects in humans. Studies of occupational exposure have not suggested increased risks of cancer.

Adequate controls and use of personal protective equipment can minimise any hazardous exposures and prevent illness in the workplace.

More information

Read our acrylamide technical fact sheet.

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