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What is Potassium Cyanide?
Potassium cyanide is crystalline inorganic compound that is colorless. It is referred to as KCN, which is also its molecular formula, and looks very similar to sugar. And just like sugar, potassium cyanide is water-soluble. Others also refer to it as hydrocyanic acid potassium salt.
KCN or potassium cyanide is said to be a stable inorganic compound but has compatibility issues with materials like iodine, peroxides, acids, alkaloids, permanganates, chloral hydrate, and metallic salts. It is also very sensitive to moisture and light. When KCN has contact with an acid, it will result to a highly toxic HCN gas or hydrogen cyanide. The smell of this toxic gas is similar to bitter almonds but many people won’t be able to detect such odor.
Much of potassium cyanide’s use is in the mining of gold, in electroplating, and in organic synthesis. The jewelry industry also makes use of KCN especially in chemical buffing and gliding, but to a lesser extent. It is also said that entomologists also take advantage of KCN’s toxicity by using it as killing agent for collecting jars. Because of KCN, many insects will die almost instantly. So with KCN’s help, there will be less damage to specimens that maybe very fragile.
Potassium cyanide may be produced in two ways. One is to treat HCN with potassium hydroxide and the other is to treat formamide with potassium hydroxide. Either way, the resulting potassium cyanide is very toxic and could cause death when inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. When inside the body, potassium cyanide or KCN will inhibit cellular respiration. This process prevents the body to oxidize food for energy and will go under lactic acidosis in which the body tissues won’t be able to use up available oxygen in the blood. This condition is highly fatal and any person poisoned by KCN may die in less than an hour. The usual cause of death for KCN poisoning is cardiac arrest.
How is cyanide poisoning diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of acute cyanide poisoning, seek immediate emergency medical attention.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic cyanide poisoning, see your doctor right away. After discussing your symptoms, your doctor will perform a physical exam.
They’ll also conduct blood testsTrusted Source to assess your:
- Methemoglobin level. Methemoglobin is measured when there is concern for smoke inhalation injury.
- Blood carbon monoxide concentration (carboxyhemoglobin level). Your blood carbon monoxide concentration can indicate how much smoke inhalation has occurred.
- Plasma or blood lactate level. Cyanide blood concentrations usually aren’t available in time to help diagnose and treat acute cyanide poisoning, but they can offer later confirmation of poisoning.
The first step to treating a suspected case of cyanide poisoning is to identify the source of exposure. This will help your doctor or other healthcare provider determine the appropriate decontamination method.
In the case of a fire or other emergency incident, rescue personnel will use protective gear like face masks, eye shields, and double gloves to enter the area and take you to a safe location.
If you have ingested cyanide, you may be given activated charcoal to help absorb the toxin and safely clear it from your body.
Cyanide exposure can affect oxygen intake, so your doctor may administer 100 percent oxygen via a mask or endotracheal tube.
In severe cases, your doctor may administer one of two antidotes:
- cyanide antidote kit
- hydroxocobalamin (Cyanokit)