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Home>Water University>Water Contaminants>Acrylamide


This is a fact sheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What is Acrylamide and how is it used?

Acrylamide is an organic solid of white, odorless, flake-like crystals. The greatest use of acrylamide is as a coagulant aid in drinking water treatment. Other uses of include: to improve production from oil wells; in making organic chemicals and dyes; in the sizing of paper and textiles; in ore processing; in the construction of dam foundations and tunnels.

The list of trade names given below may help you find out whether you are using this chemical at home or work.

Trade Names and Synonyms:

Acrylic amide
Amresco Acryl-40

Why is Acrylamide being regulated?

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.

The MCLG for acrylamide has been set at zero because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.

There are currently no acceptable means of detecting acrylamide in drinking water. In this case, EPA is requiring water suppliers to use a special treatment technique to control its amount in water. Since acrylamide is used in drinking water treatment processes, it is being controlled simply by limiting its use for this purpose.

These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring these standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. All public water supplies must abide by these regulations.

What are the health effects?

Short-term: EPA has found acrylamide to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: damage to the nervous system, weakness and incoordination in the legs.

Long-term: Acrylamide has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: damage to the nervous system, paralysis; cancer.

How much Acrylamide is produced and released to the environment?

Demand for acrylamide in the early 1990s was about 120 million pounds. The main source of concern for acrylamide in drinking water is from its use as a clarifier during water treatment. When added to water, it coagulates and traps suspended solids for easier removal. However, some acrylamide does not coagulate and remains in the water as a contaminant. Improvements in the production and use of acrylamide have made it possible to control this contamination to acceptable levels.

From 1987 to 1993, according to EPA's Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, acrylamide releases to land and water totalled over 40,000 lbs. These releases were primarily from plastics industries. The largest releases occurred in Michigan.

What happens to Acrylamide when it is released to the environment?

Acrylamide does not bind to soil and will move into soil rapidly, but it is degraded by microbes within a few days in soil and water. Its has little tendency to accumulate in fish.

How will Acrylamide be detected in and removed from my drinking water?

The regulation for acrylamide became effective in 1992. EPA requires your water supplier to show that when acrylamide is added to water, the amount of uncoagulated acrylamide is less than 0.5 ppb.

How will I know if Acrylamide is in my drinking water?

If the treatment technique for acrylamide fails, the system must notify the public via newspapers, radio, TV and other means. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.

This is a factsheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Drinking Water Standards:

Mclg: Zero

Mcl: Treatment Technique

Acrylamide Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):

Water Land
TOTALS (in pounds) 36,287 5,818

Top Five States*
MI 12,200 0
WA 8,000 0
CT 5,690 0
LA 4,367 500
PA 2,505 20
AL 1,262 1,258

Major Industries*
Plastics and resins 19,002 2,177
Pulp mills 8,000 0
Indust. organics 3,107 2,200
Indust. inorganics 2,510 500

* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases greater 100 lbs.

Note: This fact sheet is part of a larger publication adapted from U.S. EPA publication: EPA National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.