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Systematic name Cyanide
Molecular formula CN-
Molar mass Molar mass::26.007 g/mol
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Disclaimer and references

Cyanide is a polyatomic ion that is most well known as a lethal poison. This chemical compound can be found as a gas, a liquid, and even a solid and has many varied uses other than as a pesticide or fumigant. Its solid form is mostly as crystals or powder that are white, and the liquid and gas forms are a pale blue color. It has a slight odor or scent that is not easily detectable. It has many uses including separating gold ore, electroplating, and a poison, (which are only a few). It occurs naturally in many unexpected places and also unnaturally as a result of industrial practices. However, it is the poisonous nature of cyanide which makes this compound so popular. It exists as one of the most dangerous substances known to man.


Cyanide is an inorganic compound- that is an exception of the other compounds that are synthesized with carbon, (a few other exceptions include carbonates and carbides.) It is part of the cyano group, which involves a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. A few other names for the compound include Isocyanide, Cyanide ion and Cyanide anion. Cyanide exists as a gas, liquid, and even a solid (cyanide salts.) Some simple cyanide salts are calcium cyanide (CaCN), potassium cyanide (KCN), and sodium cyanide (NaCN). They are white in color and appear as a powder. The salts are also able to be dissolved in water (or soluble) and the smell and taste of them are described as "a bitter almond." The liquid and gas forms of cyanide are colorless or a pale blue color and also have a bitter almond odor. Cyanide in the gas form is often described as the compound (HCN), Hydrogen Cyanide. [1]


Cassava roots are a natural source of cyanide.

Cyanide occurs naturally in many places. For example, cyanide can be found in many fruits and vegetables and their seeds like almonds, millet sprouts, lima beans, soy, spinach, bamboo shoots and the cassava root. Also, most fruits that have a seed or pit such as cherries, apples and apricots contain small amounts of cyanide. Cyanide can also be produced naturally. This can be done by certain types of bacteria as well as algae and fungi.[2] The cyanide in fruits and vegetables are there because the plant stores it in an 'inactive form', most of the time as a cyanogenic glycoside (which is described as a sugar molecule with cyanide group- CN attached to it). An enzyme in the fruit breaks the sugar molecule off releasing the cyanide when the fruit is eaten.[3] Hydrogen cyanide (the gas form of cyanide) is produced by a certain chemical method. In this method, oxygen is not available. Some things that produce cyanide are cigarette smoke and plastic (when it is burned).

Cyanide also occurs unnaturally as a result of certain industrial processes. Cyanides are often found in the soil or water near mining operations, industries that produce organic chemicals, steel and metal manufacturers, and waste-water management and treatment facilities. Another significant source of one form of cyanide is exhaust and emissions from vehicles. Cyanide containing pesticides and insecticides can also be a source of cyanide. In addition, burning waste and runoff water from roads that have used cyanide-containing salts. The most common cyanides that are found in the environment as a result of industrial processes are hydrogen cyanide, potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide. Thiocyanates are also common in the environment and are the product of the human body absorbing another compound of cyanide, (specifically the product of a reaction of sulfur and free cyanide). Table salt also contains cyanide as a stabilizer. [4]


Bottles of Sodium Cyanide- one of the solid forms of cyanide

One of the most common uses for cyanide compounds is in mining. A diluted sodium cyanide solution is used to separate gold from the actual ore (the method of removing gold from the ore with cyanide is a replacement for a method using liquid mercury.) [5] In a water purification process called chlorination, a small amount of cyanogen chloride is used. Hydrocyanic acid (or hydrogen cyanide) is commonly used when making synthetic fibers, synthetic rubber, and also plastic. [6] cyanide is also used to make paper. In addition, it is found in certain chemicals used to develop photographs. (Cyanide salts, the solid form of cyanide) are used in several ways. One of these uses is in metallurgy for electroplating. These salts can be used to clean metals. The well known use for the various forms of cyanide is as a poison. In the past, the gas used by the Nazis in World War II was called Zyklon B and was made wth Hydrogen Cyanide, the gaseous form of cyanide. Today, cyanide gas is used to fumigate warehouses or the cargo spaces of ships to eradicate pests like rodents or insects.[7] It is often used in metal processing so it is common in factories that manufacture steel and other similar products. Certain paints and adhesives are made with amounts of cyanide. It is also used in some dyes and even in pharmaceuticals. A common medical use for cyanide is to decrease blood pressure quickly. This can be very useful in certain emergency medical situations.One less well known use of cyanide is cyanide fishing. In most cases this practice is performed illegally. The fisherman/ divers spray a diluted cyanide solution on a fish to stun it and make it easier to capture alive. [8]

Cyanide Poisoning

People who work in factories that produce plastics have a high risk of getting cyanide poisoning. Another exposure risk is building/home, RV, and boat fires. The slight smell of almonds that is associated with cyanide can be very hard to detect and does not always serve as a good warning sign that the dangerous poison is present. [9] Only a small amount of cyanide is needed to kill a grown adult. It is one of the most fast acting poisons known. Cyanide can also cause burns to the skin when it comes in contact with cyanide salts for example. The body can absorb cyanide through many ways such as inhalation, ingestion and absorption through the skin and mucous membranes. The speed at which cyanide kills is heavily based on the type of exposure, the dose, and the time. Inhaling the poison can cause death in 10-60 minutes (when the concentration is higher, it causes death much more quickly.) People who survive cyanide poisoning may have brain and heart damage.

Cyanide restricts the cells in the body from using oxygen. The effects of cyanide on the human body is described as being very similar to suffocation. Most of the symptoms are even the same that people suffer from it when hiking in high altitudes. Some of these symptoms include dizziness, confusion, weakness, strange behavior, shortness of breath/ difficulties breathing, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Ingesting cyanide can have a slightly different effect. It is more rapid and dramatic, often causing seizures right away, sudden collapse, and comas. A person who has suffered from cyanide poisoning often has skin that turns unusually red due to the lack of oxygen going to the cells. [9]

Cyanide poisoning is treatable. If the person is treated soon enough, there is a chance of survival. Using a diagnostic test to find out if cyanide was a factor is unrealistic because it could take hours, by which time the patient may already have died. The first thing to try and save the person is remove their clothes because the cyanide that is on them can continue to poison the person and the people treating them. If the person ingested the poison, their stomach will be pumped. A cyanide antidote called Hydroxocobalamin (Cyanokit) may be used. It is not entirely effective but it does stop the cyanide from continuing to poison the victim. If the patient has carbon monoxide poisoning in addition to the cyanide, oxygen therapy may be used. [9]


Shows the dangers of the highly poisonous compound Cyanide.


  1. Cyanide (inorganic) compounds Australian Government Department of the Environment. Web. Date of Access: 10 January 2015 Author Unknown.
  2. Reader Question: What fruits and vegetables contain Cyanide? Health Web. Date of access: 10 January 2015 Author unknown.
  3. Lutz, Diana. Why do many food plants contain cyanide? Washington University in St. Louis. Web. Date of access: 10 January 2015.
  4. Toxic Substances portal-cyanide Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Web. Date of publication: July 2006. author unknown.
  5. What is the role of cyanide in mining? Web. Date of access: 11 January 2015. author unknown.
  6. Cyanide Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. last update: 1-14-14. author unknown.
  7. . Facts About Cyanide Centers for disease control and prevention. Web. date of access: 1-24-15. author unknown.
  8. . 18 amazing facts about Cyanide you didn’t know Yes I Know Web. date of access: 1-24-15. author unknown.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 . Cyanide Poisoning (cont.) WebMD inc.. Web. Date of access: 25 Jan. 2015. author unknown.