Acrylamide Factsheet

Acrylamide is a chemical formed when people cook carbohydrates (starchy foods) at very high temperatures. It is also found in tobacco smoke. Acrylamide is used to make chemicals used to purify water, treat sewage, make paper, and make certain cosmetics and soaps.

How People Are Exposed to Acrylamide

Acrylamide exposure usually happens when people eat foods cooked at high temperatures such as fried potato chips and French fries, drink coffee, or inhale tobacco smoke. People who work in industries that make or use acrylamide can have higher exposures through skin contact or inhalation.

How Acrylamide Affects People’s Health

Human health effects from environmental exposure to low levels of acrylamide are unknown. The body converts some acrylamide to glycidamide. Both acrylamide and glycidamide can bind to hemoglobin, a large protein in the red blood cells. The resulting substances (hemoglobin adducts) are measured in people’s blood. Inhaling large amounts of acrylamide can irritate breathing passages. Long term exposure can cause nerve damage. In laboratory animal testing, acrylamide caused reproductive problems, nerve damage, and cancer.

Levels of Acrylamide Adducts in the U.S. Population

In the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Updated Tables, March 2018, CDC scientists reported acrylamide and glycidamide hemoglobin adducts. They measured these substances in the blood of more than 14,000 participants, aged three years and older, who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 2003–2004 and 2005-2006. By measuring these hemoglobin adducts in blood, scientists can estimate the amount of acrylamide that has entered people’s bodies.

  • CDC scientists found measurable levels of acrylamide adducts in the blood of 99.9% of the U.S. population.
  • Scientists found measurable levels of glycidamide adducts in the blood of 97.5% of the U.S. population.
  • Findings show smokers have almost twice the levels of acrylamide and glycidamide adducts in their blood than nonsmokers.

Finding a measurable amount of acrylamide or glycidamide hemoglobin adducts in blood does not imply that they cause an adverse health effect. Biomonitoring studies on levels of acrylamide provide physicians and public health officials with reference values. These reference values help experts determine if people have been exposed to higher levels of acrylamide than are found in the general population. Biomonitoring data can also help scientists plan and conduct research on exposure and health effects.

Additional Resources

Department of Health and Human Services

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Environmental Protection Agency

Food and Drug Administration

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

  • Acrylamide: A Review of the Literature
  • Detailed information about Acrylamide and public health is available at the NIOSH Acrylamide page.
Page last reviewed: April 7, 2017