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Cyanide

What Does Cyanide Mean?

Cyanide is a potentially poisonous, deadly chemical compound. It is a term that can be used to refer to a group of chemicals that have triple-bonded carbon and nitrogen.

Cyanide can exist in various forms, such as colorless gas, pale blue liquid, or crystal.

Safeopedia Explains Cyanide

Cyanide compounds that are potentially harmful include:

  • Sodium cyanide (NaCN)
  • Potassium cyanide (KCN)
  • Hydrogen cyanide (HCN)
  • Cyanogen chloride (CNCl)

Cyanide poisoning interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently, resulting in symptoms that range from headaches to respiratory failure.

Who Is at Risk of Cyanide Poisoning?

Cyanide compounds are used in various manufacturing processes. It is also released when some materials are combusted and is a component of some pesticides.

Jobs and tasks that carry a risk of cyanide exposure include:

  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Laboratory work
  • Fumigation
  • Plastic manufacturing
  • Textiles
  • Pesticide application
  • Steel and ironworks

OSHA's Medical Services and First Aid, 29 CFR 1910.151(a) standard requires employers to consult with a physician or licensed healthcare professional if there is a foreseeable risk of cyanide exposure. The purpose of this consultation is to ensure that emergency medical services are available and that they are properly equipped to deal with cases of acute cyanide poisoning.

How Cyande Acts on the Body

Cyanide enters the bloodstream after exposure. Its subsequent effects depend on the degree of exposure.

In small doses, cyanide converts to thiocyanate, which is less harmful and expelled in the urine. It is also one of the components of vitamin B12, which helps maintain healthy nerves and red blood cells.

In high doses, however, the body cannot convert cyanide to thiocyanate. Instead, it prevents cells from utilizing oxygen, resulting in cell death. The heart, respiratory system, and central nervous system are most susceptible to cyanide poisoning.

Symptoms of Cyanide Poisoning

Symptoms of mild cyanide poisoning can include:

  • Dizziness and weakness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing

Severe cases of cyanide poisoning have significatly more harmful symptoms, which can include:

  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Respiratory failure
  • Death

Treatment for Cyanide Poisoning

If detected quickly, cyanide poisoning can be treated.

In the United States, the use of a cyanide antidote kit (CAK) is the only approved treatment method. These kits consist of amyl nitrite, sodium nitrite, and sodium thiosulfate.

The United Kingdom allows the use of dicobalt edetate, an intravenous chelator of cyanide. This helps purge cyanide from the body but has potentially severe side effects, including anaphylaxis, seizure, low blood pressure, and abnormal heartbeat.

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