INDUSTRIAL CHEMICALS – PROBABLE CARCINOGEN (IARC 2A)
Acrylamide is a colourless or white crystalline powder. Since it was first synthesized in 1949, acrylamide has been used as an intermediary in producing polyacrylamide and acrylamide copolymers. Polymerized acrylamide is not toxic, but acrylamide monomer is, and can remain as a contaminant in the polymers. Acrylamide may also be referred to as 2-propenamide or acrylic acid amide. There are numerous other synonyms and product names; see the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) for more information.
Acrylamide has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. The evaluation was based on evidence in animals and additional mechanistic data, as neither of the two available studies of workers exposed to acrylamide provided sufficient data on carcinogenicity in humans. Ingesting acrylamide caused cancers at a variety of sites in rats, including the thyroid and testis region, mammary gland, thyroid, central nervous system, oral cavity, and uterus. Other studies showed increases in lung tumours and skin cancer in mice.
Regulations and Guidelines
|Canadian Jurisdictions||OEL (mg/m3)|
|Canada Labour Code||0.03 [i, v, sk, dsen]|
|BC, MB, ON, NL, PE, NS||0.03 [i, v, sk, dsen]|
|AB, QC||0.03 [sk]|
|SK, NT, NU||0.03 [i, v, sk]
|Other Jurisdiction||OEL (mg/m3)|
|ACGIH 2020 TLV||0.03 [i, v, sk, dsen]|
mg/m3 = milligrams per cubic meter
i = inhalable fraction
v = vapour
sk = easily absorbed through the skin
dsen = dermal sensitization
stel = short term exposure limit (15 min. maximum)
ACGIH = American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists
TLV = threshold limit value
Canadian environmental guidelines
|Cosmetic Hotlist||Not permitted||2014|
|Ontario Ambient Air Quality Criteria||24 hour: 15 μg/m3||2016|
|BC’s Contaminated Sites Regulation, BC Reg 375/96||Sets soil standards for the protection of human health:
Agricultural and low density residential sites: 3 μg/g
Urban park and high density residential sites: 6 μg/g
Commercial and industrial sites: 65 μg/g
Drinking water: 0.1 μg/L
Sets vapour standards* for the protection of human health:
μg/g = micrograms per gram
μg/L = micrograms per litre
* Vapours derived from soil, sediment, or water
|Health Canada||DSL – high priority substance with the greatest potential for exposure||2006|
|Challenge to Industry||Batch 5 (as 2-propenamide)||2008|
|Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory||Reportable to NPRI if manufactured, processed, or otherwise used at quantities greater than 10 tonnes||2016|
DSL = domestic substance list
Acrylamide is used primarily to produce polymers (polyacrylamides), which have many industrial uses. For example, grout, used in the mining industry and to seal sewer lines and manholes; and flocculants, used in water treatment, crude oil processing, pulp and paper processing, soil conditioning/stabilization, mineral processing, and concrete processing.[5,36]
Canadian Production and Trade
Between 1 million and 10 million kilograms of acrylamide were imported into Canada in 2006. Between 100 and 1000 kilograms were manufactured in Canada.
In 1998, three Canadian companies were producing a total of 7,000 tonnes of polyacrylamide. Available data indicates that imports from US producers supply much of the Canadian market for polyacrylamide.
None of ‘acrylamide,’ ‘2-propenamide,’ or ‘polyacrylamide’ were included in the TradeMap database for Canada between 2001 and 2011.
Environmental Exposures Overview
The main sources of environmental exposure to acrylamide are food and cigarette smoke. People may also be exposed at lower levels via drinking water and in consumer products (where residual acrylamide can be found).[2,40]
Acrylamide in food was first discovered in a 2002 study by the Swedish National Food Administration. In 2009, Health Canada initiated an acrylamide monitoring program, in which a number of food products from various brand names were tested for acrylamide. Health Canada continues to monitor of acrylamide levels as part of their Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP).
Acrylamide is formed in many types of foods during cooking, especially carbohydrate-rich foods. In Canada, potato chips and french fries contain the highest levels of acrylamide.[44,45] Health Canada estimates that Canadians are exposed to between 0.157-0.609 µg/kg/day of acrylamide, with children (aged 1-8) ingesting higher amounts on a body weight basis than other groups. To reduce the amount of acrylamide in foods, Health Canada amended the Food and Drug Regulations in 2012 to allow an enzyme in specific food products, which reduces the amount of acrylamide produced during the cooking process. Health Canada encourages Canadian food companies to further adopt ways to decrease the level of acrylamide in food.[43,45]
As of 2001, polyacrylamide was used in about 100 cosmetic formulations (at concentrations of up to 2.8%). Acrylamide monomer can remain as a contaminant in polyacrylamide (concentrations from < 0.01% to 0.1%).
Acrylamide is not expected to remain in the air if released industrially; it will likely partition to water and soil.
Searches of Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and the US Household Products Database yielded the following results on current potential for exposure to acrylamide in Canada:
NPRI and US Household Products Database
|Substance name: ‘Acrylamide’|
|Released into Environment||None||Basic chemical manufacturing;
Other chemical product manufacturing
Paint, coating and adhesive manufacturing
|Disposed of||0.04 t|
|Sent to off-site recycling||None|
|US Household Products 2016|
|Search Term||Quantity||Product Type|
|‘Acrylamide’||6||Odor neutralizers(4), adhesive(1), sealant(1)|
|‘Polyacrylamide’||50||Cosmetic creams, moisturizers, soaps,
hair conditioners, air fresheners,
fabric conditioners and glues
t = tonne
Occupational Exposures Overview
Inhalation and dermal contact are the most important routes of occupational exposure.
CAREX Canada estimates that 9,300 Canadians are exposed to acrylamide in the workplace. The main industries exposed are foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors. The occupations with the most workers exposed are construction trade helpers and labourers, followed by concrete finishers and mineral and metal processing labourers.
Other sources of occupational exposure may occur in pulp and paper manufacturing, oil drilling, textile and cosmetics manufacturing, food processing, plastics manufacturing, mining, and agricultural industries. People working in labs where polyacrylamide gels are prepared may also be exposed.
Some occupational exposure measurements (including dermal measurements) and task-related information are available in a risk assessment from the EU.
For more information, see the occupational exposure estimate for acrylamide.
Subscribe to our newsletters
The CAREX Canada team offers two regular newsletters: the biannual e-Bulletin summarizing information on upcoming webinars, new publications, and updates to estimates and tools; and the monthly Carcinogens in the News, a digest of media articles, government reports, and academic literature related to the carcinogens we’ve classified as important for surveillance in Canada. Sign up for one or both of these newsletters below.