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Potassium cyanide is the inorganic compound with the formula KCN. This colorless crystalline compound, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. The vast majority of KCN is used in gold mining followed by use in organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewelry for chemical gilding and buffing.
Highly toxic, KCN is odorless but due to hydrolysis, solids emit small amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which smells like bitter almonds (not everyone can smell it—the ability thereof is due to a genetic trait.). It is also used by entomologists as a killing agent in collecting jars, as most insects succumb within seconds, minimizing damage of even the most fragile types.
Additional recommended knowledge
KCN is produced by treating hydrogen cyanide with potassium hydroxide. Approximately 50,000 tons are produced yearly (the production of sodium cyanide is 10x that amount). It is detoxified most efficiently with hydrogen peroxide:
In gold mining, KCN and NaCN form water-soluble salts from gold metal in the presence of air:
Very few methods exist for this extraction process.
Cyanide salts are among the most rapidly acting of all known poisons. Cyanide is a potent inhibitor of cellular respiration, acting on mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase and hence blocking oxidative phosphorylation. This prevents the body from oxidising food to produce useful energy. Lactic acidosis then occurs as a consequence of anaerobic metabolism. Initially, acute cyanide poisoning causes a red or ruddy complexion in the victim because the tissues are not able to use the oxygen in the blood.
The effects of potassium cyanide are virtually identical to sodium cyanide. Once more than 100–200 mg of potassium cyanide is absorbed, consciousness is lost within one minute, sometimes within 10 seconds, depending on the person involved and the amount of food present in the stomach. After a span of about 45 minutes, the body goes into a state of coma or deep sleep and the person may die within two hours if not treated medically. During this period, convulsions may occur. Death occurs mainly by cardiac arrest.
A number of prominent Nazis, including Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, committed suicide using lethal pills which contained potassium cyanide. The substance was also used in the 1978 mass murder/suicide of over 900 people at Jonestown, Guyana.
Potassium cyanide (and other forms of cyanide) often appear in fiction. In crime fiction it is a popular choice as a murder weapon.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Potassium_cyanide". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|