Cyanide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that can exist in various forms.
Why this substance is hazardous
- Most cyanide compounds release the cyanide anion (CN-) within the human body after ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin. This anion disrupts aerobic respiration, the central nervous system and the heart.
- Minor exposure can result in, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting and general muscle weakness.
- Major exposure can result in convulsions, loss of consciousness, rapid lowering of blood pressure, lung injury, slow heart rate and death.
- Long term health effect include the possibility of heart, brain or nerve damage.
- Immediate treatment with 100% oxygen is a countermeasure to poisoning.
- Cyanide is used to purify gold from its ore, hydrogen cyanide is used in process chemistry for example in producing adiponitrile the precursor to nylon and sodium nitroprusside is used by medical professionals to measure urine ketone bodies.
- Potassium ferrocyanide is used to achieve a blue colour on cast bronze and other cyanide compounds are used in jewellery making and for sepia toning (a photography technique).
- Cyanides are important chemical reagents such as a single carbon synthon in synthetic strategies.
Recommended control measures
This is a controlled chemical (Poison UCL ref PA007) – see information on standards for all controlled chemicals.
Minimise the risk of exposure
- Establish a designated area for working with cyanide compounds. Clearly marked with signs identifying the chemical hazard and include an appropriate warning. This should be in close access to an emergency shower. Handle cyanide compounds in a certified laboratory fume hood.
- Keep acids out of the fume hood unless needed for the experiment. If needed, keep quantity to a minimum.
- Be aware that many cyanide compounds will react with acids to form hydrogen cyanide gas.
- Do NOT work alone when using cyanide compounds, limit work to normal working hours set by your department.
Decontamination of the work areas
- To clean fume hood surfaces, utensils, and glassware contaminated with cyanide compounds, first use a pH 10 buffer solution, followed by cleaning with a freshly prepared 10% bleach solution.
- Conduct cleaning activities within the fume hood only.
- Speed is essential
- Remove from the contaminated area before treating.
- Inhalation - Do not use mouth to mouth, it will expose the first aider. Treat with high flow oxygen.
- Skin or eye contact. Wash with plenty of water (drench shower for large exposure). If an injured person shows respiratory distress treat for inhalation.
- Ingestion. Do not induce vomiting, do not give anything by mouth, if an injured person shows respiratory distress treat for inhalation.
Chemical safety library
> Read more about control measures for chemicals in our chemical safety library
Last updated: Monday, June 7, 2021