Acrolein, which can also be known as propenal is the simplest unsaturated aldehyde which is an organic compound containing a formyl group. It can immediately react with other products as it is very instable and toxic. Another distinct feature that acrolein has is its piercing acrid smell; that of burnt fat.
The first method developed to obtain acrolein was through vapor phase condensation of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde in the 1930s. Vapor phase oxidation of propylene to obtain acrolein was introduced in the 1940s. However this method was not used at first and only gained popularity in the 1960s. This method to obtain acrolein is vastly used in the industries today with several million tons of acrolein being produced each year. The major by-products that are produced during this reaction are acrylic acids and carbon oxides.
An example of an application of acrolein can be that it is used in the preparation of glycerol and polyester resin. However, the largest single use of acrolein is being an insolated intermediate in the production of acrylic acid, of which, most is changed to its lower alkyl esters. A domestic use of acrolein can be that it is used as a herbicide to control algae or weed in canals. The manufacture of colloidal forms of metal and perfumes also involves acrolein.
The fact that it was used as a chemical weapon in the First World War suggests that acrolein has harmful chemical effects. It can cause a person to choke as it is a very severe pulmonary irritant. Exposure of acrolein to the eyes can cause severe irritation. No tests on human have been done to verify if acrolein can cause cancer but those conducted on rats showed an increase in cancerous tumors. Also, studies have shown that acrolein in tobaccos smoke can cause lung cancer.
Due to these harmful effects of acrolein, it should be used very carefully. Domestic products that contain acrolein should be kept in a safe place out of the reach of children.