Home Podcasts THMG152 – Acrolein, Part I

THMG152 – Acrolein, Part I


In this episode, Mike and Bob break down one of the best chemicals for instructors to use when giving common scenarios: acrolein. They’ll discuss the incredible chemical and physical properties of this substance in part one of a two part series.

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Complete Show Notes

3:45 What is Acrolein?

  • Acrolein is the simplest unsaturated aldehyde
  • Aldehydes are organic compounds with oxygen double-bonded end carbons
  • The end carbon has both a double-bonded O, a hydrogen, and the rest of the chain
  • Aldehydes aren’t to be confused with ketones, though – ketones have the O on one of the inside carbons
  • Acrolein is quite reactive and has a lot of uses in the industrial world

5:45 History of Acrolein

  • Got its start as a potential chemical warfare adjacent
  • Used by the French in WWI as a replacement for halogenated tear gasses
  • While the toxicity would have made this a great weapon, its reactivity turned out to be its downfall
  • Because of its powerful ability to react, it would spontaneously turn into a harmless wax or gum-like liquid

7:05 Other Uses for Acrolein

  • Acrolein was one of the first chemicals to be labeled an antioxidant – small amounts added to items like fuel and food helped preserve them from the destructive effects of oxygen
  • Used as an intermediate compound to drive chemical reactions – very useful when you’re trying to convert raw materials into something else
  • Also a monomer that’s used to create polymers – polymers are things like plastics, paints, adhesives, and even those little balls of plastic that absorb insane amounts of liquids (super-absorbent polymers)
  • Has the ability to polymerize – often stored with hydroquinone or in an inert atmosphere with headspace
  • Used to form acrylic acid, which is used in man-made fibers and flexible plastic
  • Also used as a pesticide, herbicide, and microbicide because of its toxicity
  • Acrolein is also a precursor used in irritants like tear gas and other incapacitating agents
  • Firefighters encounter acrolein all the time, since it’s a product of the combustion of hydrocarbons
    • Plastics, foam, nylon, and almost everything else is hydrocarbon-based
    • This means the formation of acrolein in the air is a clear and present danger
    • Acrolein is a skin and inhalation hazard, so it probably has something to do with the rise in cancer
  • Restaurant workers have also been inadvertently exposed to enough acryocline to cause harm
  • When fats decompose at high temperatures, they produce acroleins – this can cause fryers to malfunction and overheat

13:05 Chemical Properties of Acrolein

  • Flash point: -29° Celsius (-20° Fahrenheit) in a closed cup
  • Upper flammability/explosive limit (UEL): 31%(V)
  • Lower flammability/explosive limit (LEL): 2.8%(V)
  • Vapor pressure: 209.4mmHg at 20° Celsius (68° Fahrenheit)
  • Vapor density: 1.94 (Air = 1.0)
  • Relative density: 0.839 g/mL at 25° Celsius (77° Fahrenheit)
  • Solubility: 40%
  • IP: 10.3 ev

20:45 Acrolein Incompatibilities and Reactivities

  • Acids
  • Alkalis
  • Ammonia
  • Amines
  • Note: polymerizes readily unless inhibited with hydroquinone and may form shock-sensitive peroxides over time

24:00 Toxicity of Acrolein

  • IDLH (immediately dangerous to life and health) of 2 ppm
  • Has caused adverse health effects in humans at concentrations as low as 0.09 ppm
  • Serious, irreversible health effects may occur at concentrations as low as 0.4 ppm for 10 minutes
  • OSHA does not allow workers to be exposed to concentrations over 0.3 ppm for longer than 15 minutes – the 8-hour workplace standard is 0.1 ppm
  • From the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):
    • “The symptoms of lung edema often do not become manifest until a few hours have passed, and they are aggravated by physical effort. Rest and medical observation are therefore essential. Immediate administration of an appropriate inhalation therapy by a doctor or person authorized by him/her should be considered. An added stabilizer or inhibitor can influence the toxicological properties of this substance, so consult an expert. The odor warning when the exposure limit value is exceeded is insufficient. The occupational exposure limit value should not be exceeded during any part of the working exposure. Check for peroxides prior to distillation and render harmless if positive.”

30:40 Dealing with an Acrolein Fire

  • Acrolein is very toxic and somewhat soluble, so fighting the fire might produce an even more dangerous hazmat scene
  • At the same time, the smoke from an acrolein fire is poisonous – your options are a poison cloud of smoke or a large, offgassing puddle
  • We can’t offer a one-size-fits-all answer for this – it all depends on the environment and the situation

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