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Publication of Current Intelligence Bulletin 55: Carcinogenicity of Acetaldehyde and Malonaldehyde, and Mutagenicity of Related Low-Molecular-Weight Aldehydes

CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recently released Current Intelligence Bulletin 55: Carcinogenicity of Acetaldehyde and Malonaldehyde, and Mutagenicity of Related Low-Molecular-Weight Aldehydes (1). This publication is one of a series of current intelligence bulletins (CIBs) that provide new information or update existing data on chemical substances, physical agents, or safety hazards found in the workplace. The document is available to the public. *

CIB 55 includes recent information about the potential carcinogenicity of acetaldehyde and malonaldehyde, as well as the mutagenicity and toxicity of nine related aldehydes (acrolein, butyraldehyde, crotonaldehyde, glutyraldehyde, glyoxal, paraformaldehyde, propiolaldehyde, propionaldehyde, and valeraldehyde).

In 1982, 280,000 tons of acetaldehyde were produced in the United States. This compound is used primarily as a chemical substrate in the manufacture of acetic acid; it is also used in the synthesis of pyridine and pyridine bases, peracetic acid, pentaerythritol, 1,3-butylene glycol, and chloral. In addition, acetaldehyde has been used in the silvering of mirrors; in leather tanning; in glue and casein products; in the paper industry; as a denaturant for alcohol; in fuel compositions; as a hardener for gelatin fibers; as a preservative for fish; and in the manufacture of cosmetics, aniline dyes, plastics, and synthetic rubber. Acetaldehyde is also a probable metabolite of malonaldehyde.

An estimated 14,000 U.S. workers are exposed to acetaldehyde from direct handling (CDC, National Occupational Exposure Survey, 1981-1983). Additional workers are potentially exposed where it is used in tradenamed or proprietary products (1).

Malonaldehyde is primarily used in research laboratories. Annual production rates vary from year to year, and no figures are available for the number of workers exposed to this chemical in the United States (1).

Long-term inhalation studies of acetaldehyde produced nasal cancers in rats and laryngeal cancers in hamsters (1). A long-term gavage study of malonaldehyde produced adenomas and carcinomas of the thyroid gland and adenomas of the pancreatic islet cells in rats. Acetaldehyde and malonaldehyde were also mutagenic in a variety of assays. Adequate epidemiologic data are not available from workers exposed to acetaldehyde or malonaldehyde. However, both chemicals meet the criteria of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for potential carcinogens. NIOSH therefore considers acetaldehyde and malonaldehyde to be potential occupational carcinogens and recommends that worker exposure to acetaldehyde and malonaldehyde be reduced to the lowest feasible concentration.

The nine related aldehydes, because of their chemical reactivity and mutagenicity, are similar to those of acetaldehyde and malonaldehyde. Even though their carcinogenic potential has not been adequately evaluated by studies in experimental animals, CIB 55 recommends that consideration be given to reducing occupational exposures to these nine aldehydes.


  1. NIOSH. Current Intelligence Bulletin 55: carcinogenicity of

acetaldehyde and malonaldehyde, and mutagenicity of related low-molecular-weight aldehydes. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, NIOSH, 1991;DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)91-112.

  • Single copies of this document are available without charge from the Information Dissemination Section, Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, NIOSH, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226; telephone (513) 533-8287.

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