Acetonitrile is widely used as a solvent in the pharmaceutical industry for the formation of drugs. It is also used for spinning fibers and molding and casting plastic materials. It is also used in lithium batteries, fatty acids extraction from animal and vegetable oils, and in the detection of materials, e.g., pesticide residues in the chemical industries. Acetonitrile is also used to dye fabric and coat compositions. It also serves as a chemical intermediate in perfume production.
Hydrolysis of Acetonitrile
Hydrolysis of acetonitrile is a widely used synthetic procedure. Hydrolysis means the addition of a water molecule to the triple bond of the acetonitrile. The alkali metals (sodium (Na) and potassium (K)) attached to the cyanide group (‒C≡N) make the reaction deadly poisonous. The other factor responsible for the poisonous reaction is that most of the inorganic cyanides ionize when dissolved in water. The reaction of acetonitrile hydrolysis is described as follows;
CH₃CN + 2 H₂O → CH₃COOH + NH₃
Acetic acid and ammonia are produced as a result of the hydrolysis of acetonitrile.
Toxicity of Acetonitrile
Acetonitrile is toxic. Contact with eyes or skin may cause irritation. If inhaled it may cause mutations in sex chromosomes and result in sex chromosome loss and nondisjunction or cause mutation during sister chromatid exchange. The target organs for acetonitrile are kidneys, liver, respiratory system, central nervous system, and cardiovascular system. Chronic exposure to acetonitrile in humans causes cyanide poisoning after absorption because of the cyanide release. The effects of chronic exposure may cause severe headaches, numbness, and tremors.
Animal studies have shown that acetonitrile may cause developmental and reproductive effects, e.g., a decrease in average fetal body weight and an increase in the chances of malformed offspring. No data has been reported for the carcinogenic potential of acetonitrile.