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Acrylonitrile is used principally as a precursor monomer in the manufacture of synthetic polymers, especially polyacrylonitrile, acrylic fibers, nylon, and synthetic rubber. Small amounts are also used as a fumigant. Acrylonitrile and derivatives such as 2-chloro-acrylonitrile are dienophiles in Diels-Alder reactions.
Acrylonitrile is highly flammable, and can be easily ignited from a spark, or spontaneously on contact with certain oxidizers. Unless chemical stabilizers called "inhibitors" are added, it may also undergo explosive polymerization when heated, on contact with strong alkalis, or when exposed to ultraviolet light. The burning material releases fumes of hydrogen cyanide and oxides of nitrogen. Store in a well ventilated flammable material store away from incompatible materials, and avoid sparks.
The material is also toxic. Contact with skin or the eyes produces severe irritation. Inhalation or prolonged skin contact can produce confusion, unconsciousness, and death. Acrylonitrile is classified as a possible human carcinogen (IARC group 2B). Wear approved safety goggles, gloves and respirator during handling.