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Exposure/Effects
  • Health effects from acrylonitrile vary depending on the amount of the substance and the length and frequency of exposure.
  • Exposure may cause adverse effects to the nervous system, skin and eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, and more. At high levels, exposure can cause damage to blood cells and the liver, or can be fatal.
  • Long-term occupational exposure has been associated with cancer in humans.

Acrylonitrile is highly toxic by ingestion, inhalation, and skin absorption. It is readily absorbed through intact skin and is an irritant of the skin, eyes, and nose. Exposure to acrylonitrile can occur in the workplace or in the environment following releases to air, water, land, or groundwater. Exposure can also occur when people smoke cigarettes or breathe automobile exhaust. Acrylonitrile enters the body when people breathe air or consume water or food contaminated with AN. It can also be absorbed through skin contact. It does not remain in the body due to its breakdown and removal.

Effects on human health depend on how much acrylonitrile is present and the length and frequency of exposure. Effects also depend on the health of a person when exposure occurs.

Exposure to large amounts of acrylonitrile for a short time results mainly in adverse effects to the nervous system. Symptoms of exposure may include irritation of the eyes and skin, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, or difficulty breathing. At higher concentrations, there may be temporary damage to red blood cells and the liver. If the levels are high enough, or if the exposure is for a long enough period, acrylonitrile can cause death.

Breathing acrylonitrile for short periods of time adversely affects the nervous system, the blood, the kidneys, and the liver. These effects subside when exposure stops. Nervous system effects of AN range from headaches and dizziness to irritability, rapid heartbeat, and death. If ingested, symptoms may include abdominal pain, headache, nausea, shortness of breath, vomiting, and weakness. Symptoms of acrylonitrile poisoning may occur quickly after exposure or after levels of breakdown products like cyanide build up in the body.

Direct contact with acrylonitrile liquid severely damages the skin. It may be absorbed and cause redness, pain, and blisters. Acrylonitrile liquid or vapor irritates the eyes, nose, and throat. It can cause redness or pain in the eyes, or blurred vision. These effects are not likely to occur at levels of acrylonitrile that are normally found in the environment.

Long-term occupational exposure to acrylonitrile has been associated with cancer in humans. Urine, blood, or breath samples can be tested to determine exposure to acrylonitrile. OSHA requires medical tests that include chest X-rays and fecal occult blood screening for employees that have been exposed to acrylonitrile. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also indicates that a pulmonary function test may be in order.