30 Cyanide Facts – Beware of This Deadly Chemical

by Sankalan Baidya
Cyanide facts

This cyanide facts article is meant for information and spreading awareness. We do not entertain questions that relate to self-destruction or availability. On the contrary, this article is meant for making people aware of the dangers of this chemical. Also, in the process, we will learn its various uses and how it affects a human body. So, stay with us if you really want to learn some interesting and possibly disturbing cyanide facts.

Cyanide Facts: 1-10

1. Cyanide is a chemical compound that can act as a potent poison. It is extremely deadly and can exist in various forms.

2. Cyanide is most commonly found in gaseous and crystalline forms. In gaseous form, the most famous form is Hydrogen Cyanide. However, Cyanogen Chloride is yet another popular gaseous form of the poison.

3. In crystalline format, it is usually found as Potassium Cyanide and Sodium Cyanide. Interestingly, cyanide can also be found in liquid form. Hydrogen Cyanide, which is usually a colorless gas at higher temperatures takes the form of pale blue liquid at room temperature.

4. Many people have described cyanide to have the smell of bitter almond however, if you fail to smell this odor, don’t be surprised because it may not always give off the smell and also, the smell cannot be sensed by everyone.

5. This poison naturally occurs in many sources in form of other chemicals which later gets metabolized into cyanide inside the body. For instance, it can be found in plants like almonds, lima beans and cassava. It can also be found in seeds and pits of fruits like peaches, apples and apricots.

6. One of the commonest sources of cyanide is cigarette smoke. Also, synthetic material like plastic, when burned, releases combustion products, one of which is cyanide.

7. Several algae, fungi and bacteria are also known for producing cyanide as a byproduct of their metabolic activities.

8. Though cyanide is extremely poisonous, it is one of the commonest chemicals that is widely used in various industries. For instance, cyanide is required in the manufacturing of plastics, textiles and paper.

9. Not just that, chemicals which are commonly used for photograph development are known to contain cyanide. One of the best known uses of cyanide is in the field of metallurgy where it is used for activities like gold extraction from ore, metal cleaning, electroplating etc.

10. It is not an uncommon site to see the use of cyanide in buildings and ships for killing vermin and pests.

Cyanide Facts: 11-20

11. Cyanide exposure can happen through several routes. For instance, one may be exposed to cyanide by breathing air polluted by cyanide. However, cyanide gas is dangerous only in enclosed areas. In open air, cyanide gas evaporates very quickly, thereby minimizing the risks.

12. However, cyanide poisoning can take place by eating food, drinking water or may be even touching soil contaminated by cyanide.

13. Cyanide is capable of contaminating air, soil and water either through natural process or through industrial activities. It can contaminate air only in its gaseous form – Hydrogen Cyanide, which is by far, the most poisonous variant of cyanide.

14. We know that cyanide is poisonous but how does it affect us? It all depends on which form of cyanide has entered our body, the route through which it has entered and the time for which it has been present in our body.

15. Once inside the body, cyanide stops blocking the cells from using oxygen. As this continues, the cells start to die out gradually.

16. Of all body parts, cyanide hits the heart and the brain most because these two organs use way more oxygen compared to any other organ in the body.

17. Our body is capable of processing cyanide in small amounts and make good use of it but in large doses, the ability of the body to process cyanide is completely overwhelmed. When in small quantities, the body manages to convert cyanide into thiocyanate which then passes out through our urine.

18. The body may also use up the small amounts of cyanide and mix them with various other chemicals to produce Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 helps in maintaining healthy RBCs or red blood cells and nerve cells.

19. Cyanide also has clinical and medical usage. Under emergency situations, it is often required to get a quick decrease in blood pressure. This can be achieved by using cyanide under clinical supervision.

20. Mild cyanide poisoning can be detected by symptoms like weakness, restlessness, rapid heart rate, vomiting and nausea, rapid breathing, headache and dizziness. Though mild cyanide poisoning can lead to these symptoms, the presence of these symptoms do not necessarily imply cyanide poisoning.

Cyanide Facts: 21-30

21. In case of poisoning by large amounts of cyanide, a person can experience slow heart rate, significant drop in blood pressure, consciousness loss, convulsions, lung injury and death due to respiratory failure. However, as before, just because these symptoms show up, it does not necessarily mean cyanide poisoning.

22. Did you know that there are a 110 different plant families on this planet that are sources of cyanide?

23. Did you know that eating 3.7 pounds of Lima Beans will deliver a lethal dose of cyanide in a fully grown adult?

24. Did you know that cyanide is actually present in our DNA as a building block? It is present in our blood!

25. Cyanide is not at all teratogenic (i.e. disturbing fetus or embryo development) and neither is it carcinogenic to humans.

26. It can never move up the food chain. This means that, for example, if a fish gets cyanide poisoning, eating that fish will not lead to cyanide poisoning in a human, a bear or any animal that eats that poisoned fish.

27. It is not that just microbes and plants produce cyanide. There are many insects that produce this chemical too. For instance, millipedes, moths, beetles, centipedes and even butterflies are known for synthesizing and excreting cyanide as defensive move.

28. People often confuse cyanide as a heavy metal. Some even think it is radioactive. Many believe that it can lead to cell mutation in humans. All these are mere myths. They are not true at all.

29. Cyanide is actually a compound on its own. It is formed when carbon atoms and nitrogen atoms come together and join using triple bonds (a bit of chemistry that you can safely ignore if you want to). This compound actually combines with other metals and elements to for several other complex compounds. Those complex compounds can breakup to release cyanide.

30. It is true that cyanide in few forms is really toxic but it has a really bad reputation, which is worse than the toxicity. Thanks to many movies that created the myth that cyanide poisoning invariably kills. The truth is that cyanide poisoning can be treated and antidotes are available.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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