All About Cyanide

Chemical Reactions That Changed The World Assignment By: S.S

What is Cyanide?

Cyanide in any form is a deadly chemical which could be very lethal to the human body of high intaked as its fast acting and could be found in different forms. Cyanide could be in both gas and as a crystalline salt both of these forms are deadly when there is high enough concentration exposed. Cyanide kills by not letting the body carry oxygen. Also Cyanide gives off a bitter almond scent, when most people could detect high amounts of Cyanide, in some cases the chemical doesn't give of the smell and so not everyone can detect it.

Who discovered Cyanide?

In 1782 Cyanide was discovered by a Swedish chemist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who prepared it from the pigment Prussian Blue (which are composed of complex iron cyanide's).
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Where is Cyanide found?

cyanide is found almost everywhere in nature as well as in man-made materials too. Examples will include the seeds of Fruits E.g apples and peaches also in cigarette smoke and used in extermination materials for pests. Cyanide is also in the ingredients for most Plastics, when a building is burning down plastic materials burn, that have some form of Cyanide material in them release Cyanide.

Forms of Cyanide?

Usually Cyanide is not alone and accompanied alongside another element. Common forms of Cyanide are hydrogen cyanide (HCN), which is normally breathed in as a gas, the crystalline salts of potassium cyanide (KCN) and sodium cyanide (NaCN), which can be consumed in or with food/drink.

Hydrogen Cyanide

Hydrogen cyanide is sometimes called pursuit acid with the chemical formula being HCN. it is a colorless, odorless highly flammable liquid. there are 3 ways to achieve Hydrogen Cyanide by reaction.

1. 2CH4 + 2 NH3 + 3O2 → 2 HCN + 6H2O

Reaction Type: Double displacement

-The most important process is called in this equation is the Andrussow oxidation where methane and ammonia react in the presence of oxygen to form Hydrogen Cyanide

-The reaction type is D.D because the two non metals nitrogen and oxygen move. Nitrogen moves from ammonia to join with carbon and hydrogen which is another name for HCN as in the product. in return the lone oxygen shifts with the lone hydrogen to form H2O as in the products.

2. CH4 + NH3 → HCN + 3H2

Reaction type: Single Displacement

-This process is called the BMO process (Degussa) where no oxygen is added and the energy is transferred indirectly through the reactor wall

-The reaction is S.D since only the nitrogen the non metal in ammonia moves over to NCH which is also known as HCN as shown in products.

3. H+ + NaCN → HCN + Na+

Reaction type: Single Displacement

-The Shenanigan process uses hydrocarbon and propane that are reacted with ammonia which produces small amounts of HCN

-This equation uses single Displacement as the 2 metals switch sides so Na is alone and Hydrogen is paired with CN

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Potassium Cyanide

Potassium Cyanide is colorless crystalline salt easily looks like sugar but deadly to humans if consumed and is highly soluble in water. This chemical is a compound with the formula KCN Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewelry for chemical gilding and buffing for products.

1. HCN + KOH → KCN + H2O

Reaction type: Double Displacement/neutralization reaction

- KCN is produced by treating hydrogen cyanide with a 50% aqueous solution of potassium hydroxide then the evaporation of the solution in a vacuum.

-This equation uses Double Displacement but is a neutralization reaction as the metals Potassium and Hydrogen switch so Potassium is with Cyanide and hydrogen is now H2O as theres 2 H. But since there is a water and a salt as the reactants contain hydrogen and hydroxide and one of the products is H2O the equation uses double displacement but is a neutralization Reaction.

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Sodium Cyanide

Sodium cyanide is white substace that looks like small pieces of gum and is water-soluble solid. Also sodium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula NaCN. Cyanide has a high attraction for metals which then leads to high toxicity of this salt. NaCN is commonly used in gold mining

1. HCN + NaOH → NaCN + H2O

Reaction type: Double Displacement/ Neutralization reaction

- Sodium cyanide is produced by treating hydrogen cyanide with sodium hydroxide

-In this equation the reaction uses double displacement but is a neutralization reaction as its almost the same equation as potassium Cyanide instead of potassium pairing with Cyanide its sodium Cyanide with water. Since the reactants use hydrogen and hydroxide and the product has H2O this means NaCN is a salt therefore a neutralization reaction.

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Human health affects:

  • Eating or drinking cyanide-containing foods may cause health effects
  • Breathing cyanide gas, especially in a poorly ventilated space, has the greatest potential for harm.
  • Lethal exposures to cyanides result only from accidents or intentional acts. Because of their quick-acting nature, cyanides may be used as agents of terrorism.
  • if less then a teaspoon is consumed fatal consequences are vital in 10-15 mins

Environment Affects:

  • affect on wildlife-it is toxic to many living organisms at very low concentrations.
  • aquatic- Fish and aquatic animals are very sensitive to cyanide exposure. Concentrations of free cyanide in the aquatic environment ranging from as little as 5.0 to 7.2 micrograms per liter it reduces swimming performance and stop reproduction in many species of fish.


That affect our daily life

  • Cyanide used in many plastics
  • used in dye such as blue

Hydrogen Cyanide is used in pest control products as its very harmful and fast acting usually used in ships to kill rodents

  • cyanide is in many of our foods that we eat such as spinach, bamboo shoots, almonds, Lima beans, fruit pits and tapioca.

How was Cyanide used in the past?

Hydrogen cyanide was once under the name Zyklon B (Gift Gas) which was used as a genocidal agent in World War II by the Germans. Research has shown that in the 1980s, hydrogen cyanide gas may have been used along with other chemical agents during the Iran-Iraq war against the opposing army of the Kurdish city of Halabja in northern Iraq.

Used today?

the impact on sociaty with Cyanide is pretty heavy now as most of the products we use have some sort of Cyanide. today Cyanide is usually contained in cigarette smoke and the combustion outcome of synthetic materials such as plastics. Eg. when certain products or reactions happen and burn the outcome as one of the gases could be Cyanide.

Cyanide is also used in the production part of things like manufacturing, cyanide is used to make paper, textiles, and plastics. Also its in chemicals used to develop photographs! Potassium Cyanide salts are used in many things today like metallurgy for electroplating, metal cleaning, and removing gold from its ore. Cyanide gas is used to exterminate pests and vermin in ships and buildings.


As can be seen Cyanide has many uses either in survival, weaponry or production. and each form of cyanide has something different to offer, all three of them have different uses and how they look visually. If These forms of Cyanide where not created then most of the products we use today would not exist especially since it was used in world war II. While using Cyanide in modern day there are a ton of benefits but if not handled or taken care of correctly there can be many harmful situations to man-kind in health as all products are deadly even in small amounts.

Bibliography (APA)

(n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from

E. (2014). Empirical Formula for Hydrogen Cyanide : The Marvels of Chemistry. Retrieved October 13, 2016, from

Hydrogen cyanide. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from

By using a pharmacokinetic model and assuming that the blood cyanide concentration of 0.5 mg/L is nontoxic, the Army proposed field drinking-water standards for cyanide of 2 mg/L and 6 mg/L, assuming a water consumption of 15 L/day and 5 L/day, respectively. The subcommittee is in agreement with the Army's proposed standards. Therefore, the subcommittee's recommended field drinking-water guidelines for cyanide are the same as the Army's proposed standards. (n.d.). Read "Guidelines for Chemical Warfare Agents in Military Field Drinking Water" at Retrieved October 13, 2016, from

Department of Health. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from

Potassium cyanide. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from

Hydrogen cyanide. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from

Sodium cyanide. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2016, from