This page has been archived on the Web

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Fact Sheet – Acrylonitrile

1. What is acrylonitrile?

Acrylonitrile is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid with a weakly pungent odor. The majority of acrylonitrile is used in the chemical industry to produce synthetic rubbers and polymers.

2. What are common sources of acrylonitrile?

There are no known natural sources of acrylonitrile. It is not produced in Canada but is imported and used by the chemical industry to produce synthetic rubbers and polymers. In 2000, 6,200 tonnes were imported.

Virtually all reported releases are to air. In 2000, synthetic rubber manufacturing accounted for 6 tonnes, approximately 85% of the total release as reported to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) of Environment Canada. Between 1994 and 2000, the chemical industry reduced releases by approximately 66%.

As well, the scientific risk assessment (Priority Substance List) report for acrylonitrile indicated that tobacco smoke appears to be a source of acrylonitrile in indoor air.

3. What are the environmental or health risks associated with acrylonitrile?

Acrylonitrile was declared toxic in 2000 under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999) based on its potential to cause harm to human health. Acrylonitrile is considered toxic to human health because of its potential to cause cancer. Acrylonitrile was not found to be harmful to the environment or its biological diversity.

Generally, if people are exposed to acrylonitrile it is through air, and in general, its levels in outdoor air are so low that they are below the detection limit. Environmental exposure to acrylonitrile in air is expected to be greatest near industrial point sources. Tobacco smoke is known to be a source of acrylonitrile to indoor air.

4. What are the steps that the federal government is taking to reduce emissions and impacts of acrylonitrile to the environment?

Environment Canada's objective is to reduce releases of acrylonitrile from major industrial sources to lowest achievable levels through the application of best available techniques economically achievable.

The major industrial source of acrylonitrile emissions is synthetic rubber manufacturing in the chemical industry. This industry has already voluntarily reduced emissions of acrylonitrile by 2/3 between 1994 and 2000 to 6 tonnes through various actions.

To further help ensure that these emissions are reduced to lowest achievable levels, Environment Canada will require synthetic rubber manufacturers that use and release acrylonitrile to the environment to prepare and implement Pollution Prevention Plans in accordance with Part 4 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Such Pollution Prevention Plans will require consideration of:

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Emission Standards and Regulations;
  • the Ontario Ministry of Environment standards, including interim and proposed point of impingement (where a contaminant plume strikes the ground) air standards for acrylonitrile;
  • sampling and testing of on-site air releases to verify estimated/calculated emissions; and
  • sampling and testing for acrylonitrile in ambient air at or beyond facility boundaries.

In addition, Environment Canada is proposing regulations under s. 200 of CEPA 1999 that will require the development and implementation of environmental emergency plans at facilities in Canada that manage specific toxic substances and other substances of concern and that are above specified threshold quantities. Acrylonitrile is one of the substances currently proposed to be included in this regulation with a minimum threshold quantity of 9 tonnes.

Also, for tobacco smoke, Canada has a comprehensive tobacco control strategy in place under Health Canada's Tobacco Control Program. The Tobacco Reporting Regulations require manufacturers to report on toxic constituents and toxic emissions in mainstream (what's inhaled) and sidestream (what smolders at the burning end of a cigarette) smoke, including acrylonitrile.

As well, Health Canada has launched a national public health education campaign, which focuses on toxic substances in tobacco smoke. Health Canada is helping Canadians learn more about toxins and about its new regulation by distributing more than 1.5 million leaflets to doctors, dentists and hospitals across the country.

For general information on acrylonitrile, please contact:
Environment Canada
Director, Regulatory Innovation and Management Systems,

For information on acrylonitrile in tobacco smoke, please contact:
Health Canada
Director, Environmental Contaminants Bureau,

Date modified: