Media Release - Toxic chemical now under control


07 Dec 1999

A draft report released today by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) on the hazardous industrial chemical acrylonitrile, finds that its use and exposure levels are currently well controlled in Australia.

Acrylic acid is both explosive and highly flammable. It is toxic if inhaled or comes into contact with the skin, and also suspected of causing cancer. NICNAS's draft report is being released for public comment.

The risks associated with this chemical were the subject of a public inquiry after a tank of acrylonitrile erupted in 1991 at Melbourne's Coode Island terminal, causing a huge fire that blazed for two days. There were no serious injuries, although firefighters complained of smoke or chemical exposure. Many of the inquiry panel's recommendations affected the ways in which bulk acrylonitrile has been stored and handled in Australia since.

Six chemical companies import about two thousand tonnes of acrylonitrile per year into Australia for processing into polymers that are used to make plastics, paints and coatings. Various State authorities tightly control industrial storage, use and disposal of the chemical. Monitoring data collected by NICNAS show that the exposure of workers to acrylonitrile is well below acceptable levels in Australia.

Acrylonitrile is banned from public use, but is present in minute amounts in consumer products made from the chemical, such as plastic articles, paints and acrylic textiles. Information collected abroad shows that the release from consumer products is so limited that they do not pose a risk to the general public.

Acrylonitrile released to the environment causes little harm to living organisms and is broken down in air, soil and water fairly quickly.

For free copies of the report and to make public submissions, please contact Dr Steen Kristensen on phone (02) 9577 9464, email kristens@ASCC.gov.au. Submissions must be received within the next 28 days.


The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) operates under the Commonwealth Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.

NICNAS is a statutory scheme within the portfolio of the Minister for Health and Ageing. Its approach to the scientific assessment of chemicals covers toxicity, exposure and use to assess the environmental, public health and occupational health and safety risk. For more information see the web site www.nicnas.gov.au

Further information

Nick Miller, NICNAS, (02) 8577 8810 or 0407 228 285