Acrolein is an organic chemical (Α,Β-unsaturated aldehyde) with several important properties. Areas of utility of acrolein include water treatment, manufacture of colloidal forms of metals and perfumesand as a warning agent in methyl chloride refrigerants. It is permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be used as a slimicide in the manufacture of paper and cardboard used in contact with food and at levels up to 0.6% to modify starch 1. Acrolein is ubiquitously present in cooked foods and in the environment. It is formed from carbohydrates, vegetable oils, animal fats, and amino acids during heating of foods, and by combustion of petroleum fuels and biodiesel.

The main use of acrolein is as herbicide to control aquatic plants. As a general plant cell toxicant, it kills cells through its reactivity, through destruction of cell membranes and interruption of cell enzyme systems. These characteristics also make this reactive aldehyde an effective general biocide.3 Because acrolein is very reactive, when inhaled, ingested, or absorbed it is usually transformed before reaching the liver or kidneys. As a metabolite of other compounds such as allyl alcohol and allylamine, acrolein is produced at the liver and kidneys and behaves as might be expected: by reacting at the point of contact.3

Combustion processes commonly produce acrolein; thus, the most likely route of exposure to the general human population is through inhalation. Numerous studies have been conducted on the toxicity of inhaled acrolein to the respiratory tract, particularly that originating from cigarette smoke. The physical and chemical properties of acrolein, particularly its high water solubility and reactivity, cause tissue irritation in the upper respiratory tract, nasal passages and lungs. Higher concentrations produce severe irritation and tissue necrosis (death) at the point of contact.

Acrolein is a by-product produced by oxidation of propylene during cooking or processing fat-containing foods. Cooking with oil at temperatures of 180°C generates substantial amounts of acrolein (5-250 mg/kg oil) that is released into the atmosphere. Recently, the total emission of acrolein from commercial kitchens in Hong Kong was estimated at 7.7 tons per year, which far exceeds the annual emission of acrolein from vehicles in that city (1.8 tons/year). Regardless of the accuracy of the estimates, cooking in highly urbanized areas is a major source of acrolein in the atmosphere. Recent findings indicate that emission of acrolein from wok cooking rather than tobacco smoking is linked to the high incidence of lung cancer in Chinese women.7

Acrolein alternative name:

  • Acrylaldehyde
  • Acrylic aldehyde
  • Allyl aldehyde
  • Acraldehyde
  • Acquinite
  • Slimicide
  • Aqualine
  • Propenal


  1. Potential industrial carcinogens and mutagens. Lawrence Fishbein
  2. Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety: Guides, indexes, directory By Jeanne Mager Stellman, International Labour Office
  3. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. George W. Ware
  4. A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives. Ruth Winter
  5. Chromatographic analysis of environmental and food toxicants. Takayuki Shibamoto
  6. IFIS Dictionary of Food Science and Technology. International Food Information Service
  7. Acrolein. Sources, metabolism, and biomolecular interactions relevant to human health and disease Jan F. Stevens1,2 and Claudia S. Maier