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