Hydrocyanic acid is a transparent liquid form of hydrogen cyanide dissolved in water. This highly toxic acid comes with the chemical formula HCN. The vapour of hydrocyanic acid is lighter compared to air and, hence, it dissipates very quickly. Usually, hydrocyanic acid is available commercially in the form of an aqueous solution that contains anything between 2% and 10% hydrogen cyanide. Gradually, hydrocyanic acid or the aqueous solution decomposes to form ammonium formate. Hydrogen formate is an extremely lethal colorless gas having the typical scent of bitter almond. It is considered to be a very hazardous colorless liquid. As a result, transportation as well as storage of this toxic substance is strictly prohibited.
Hydrocyanic acid is also called prussic acid, formonitrile, and hydrogen cyanide. This is a very weak acid that quickly decomposes when stored in an environment having impurities. While the organic derivatives of hydrocyanic acid are known as nitriles, the different salts of this acid are called cyanides.
When hydrocyanic acid gets into the human body either via the respiratory system or after coming in touch with an individual’s skin, it stops the functioning of the respiratory enzyme cytochrome oxidase, which, in turn, causes the tissues to starve of oxygen. When the tissues are deprived of adequate oxygen, they stop functioning. When there is hydrocyanic acid poisoning, the victims exhibits several symptoms, which may include irritation of the mucous membranes and asthenia, vomiting, vertigo and nausea. Following these symptoms, the victim experiences acute respiratory problems such as difficult and infrequent breathing, painful dyspnea and deep breathing. Eventually, the victim experiences slow breathing and finally respiratory arrest.
The severity of poisoning caused by hydrocyanic acid can be observed in the victim as he/she suffers from headaches, fatigue and low arterial pressure. These changes can be observed more clearly in electrocardiograms (EGCs) and the blood sugar levels of the victims also drops abysmally, which leads to augmented content of other substances like hemoglobin and lactic acid in the bloodstream. When hydrocyanic acid poisoning occurs, it is essential to provide the victim with immediate first aid treatment. In addition, the victim needs to be shifted from the place of poisoning to a place where there is fresh air. In addition, preventive steps need to be taken to ensure that such poisoning does not occur. These preventive measures include use of protective garment, observing safety rules strictly and undergoing medical examinations from time to time.
Hydrocyanic acid is an extremely poisonous substance and poisoning caused by this substance may prove to be fatal. This toxic substance is a colorless liquid that transform into a gaseous state and in high concentrations it is extremely lethal. Owing to its highly toxic nature some countries used hydrocyanic acid in the form of a chemical agent, while the Nazis used this in their concentration camps to kill thousands of people.
When this acid enters the human body, it obstructs the activities of enzymes, particularly the cellular cytochrome oxidase, which results in developing tissue hypoxia. Simply speaking, this toxic substance causes the tissues to starve from oxygen once it enters the human body. This is said to be the prime reason for the substance’s toxic action in the human body. First and foremost, it affects the nervous system, particularly the central nervous system. Subsequently, this poison acts on our cardiovascular as well as the respiratory systems impairing their functioning completely.
When a person is poisoned with hydrocyanic acid, typical changes take place in his/her bloodstream. Therefore, in order to avoid being poisoned by this highly toxic substance, it is necessary that you know the places or things where hydrocyanic acid may be present. Hydrocyanic acid is found in tobacco smoke, a number of fruits and berries such as apricots, plums, peaches and cherries. In addition, this toxic substance is also naturally present in bitter almonds. Many insecticides and rodent eliminators also contain hydrocyanic acid.
Usually hydrocyanic acid poisoning takes place mostly in production because it involves use of various salts of this toxic acid for extraction of precious metals from their ore. In addition, it occurs more often in plant growth activators, manufacture of plastics, herbicides, organic glass, rubber and aromatic substances as all these involve use of hydrocyanic acid salts. These salts also have applications in the pharmaceutical industry. The salts of hydrocyanic acid are volatile and when they are exposed to air and moisture, they decompose quickly to form poison. It is worth mentioning here that hydrocyanic acid in gas form is released during the process involved in coal production.
Symptoms of hydrocyanic acid poisoning
Whether an individual has been a victim of hydrocyanic acid poisoning can be ascertained by observing the symptoms that develop after the poison has entered the victim’s body either by inhaling the vapours of the acid or after the victim has come in contact with the toxic substance with his/her skin. The manifestation of the clinical symptoms as well as the speed of the impact of poisoning depends largely on the manner in which the toxic substance has entered the victim’s body. The symptoms of poisoning will be severe when hydrocyanic acid enters the respiratory system of the victim. In such instance, the symptoms of poisoning are very likely to be manifested within a minute of the victim coming in contact with hydrocyanic acid. In case, the concentration of hydrocyanic acid is very high, the victim may die within minutes of coming in contact with the toxic substance.
When hydrocyanic acid enters the digestive system, it can remain there without showing any symptoms of poisoning. The symptoms appear most slowly when one comes in contact with hydrocyanic acid through his/her skin and its seeps into the body via the skin pores. As the temperature in the room rises, the manifestation of the symptoms becomes more pronounced. The first signs are manifested in the victim’s physical activities as he/she begins to perspire profusely. In such cases, the hidden period of poisoning can last up to 90 minutes.
There are several symptoms of hydrocyanic acid poisoning and the primary ones are described briefly below.
Soon after a person has been poisoned by hydrocyanic acid, the color of his/her skin and mucous will become distinctly pink. In addition, the victim will start exuding a smell similar to that of bitter almond. The victim will experience a bitter, metal taste in his/her mouth and will secrete profuse amounts of saliva. In addition, he/she will experience sore throat.
When the poison enters the victim’s digestive system, he/she will experience vomiting, nausea and frequent urge to pass stool. As the poison travels to the cardiovascular system, the patient will have frequent pulse and experience an oppressive pain in the chest. Sometime later, the tachycardia is substituted by an unusual pulse.
In the respiratory system, the victim will experience augmented respiration and there will be a violation of its pace.
The nervous system is also affected when a person is poisoned by hydrocyanic acid as the victim will experience blurred speech, dizziness, headaches, and numbness of the oral cavity, gait becoming shaky and appearance of the posterior pharyngeal wall. The victim’s pupils will become wide and his/her consciousness is disturbed.
In addition to these symptoms, the victim will experience convulsion and there may be involuntary urination as well as defecation. Subsequently, the victim slips into coma and eventually dies.
First aid for the defeat of hydrocyanic acid
When it is found that a person has been affected by hydrocyanic acid, he/she needs to be administered first aid treatment, which includes several activities. The first and foremost thing that needs to be done is to take the victim away from the poisonous environment with a view to prevent him/her being exposed to more toxicity. In addition, it is necessary to take of the victim’s clothes as some toxic substances may settles on them.
Having done all these, you need to immediately call an ambulance to take the victim to a healthcare provider or hospital.
If the poison has already entered the victim’s digestive system, it is vital to take steps to get rid of the contents in his/her stomach by inducing vomiting. You need to use a proper and dilute solution, such as 1% hydrogen peroxide or potassium permanganate to wash the victim’s stomach. You may also use a solution of sodium bicarbonate (2%) and sodium thiosulfate (5%) for the purpose. In fact, all these activities are necessary for a person who is in a conscious state. As an alternative means, the victim may also be administered a laxative (salt) along with activated carbon.
On the other hand, if the victim is unconscious, he/she needs to be laid on his/her side to ensure that when they vomit, it does not go into their respiratory tract and create further problems.
In case the signs are of clinical death of the victim, resuscitation needs to be undertaken instantly.
If an individual has been poisoned by hydrocyanic acid, it is advisable that someone close to the victim should provide him/her the first aid. Once the patient is taken to a doctor’s chamber, the latter will take charge of the subsequent mode of treatment.