cyanide (sĪˈənĪdˌ) [key], chemical compound containing the cyano group, CN. Cyanides are salts or esters of hydrogen cyanide (hydrocyanic acid, HCN) formed by replacing the hydrogen with a metal (e.g., sodium or potassium) or a radical (e.g., ammonium or ethyl). The most common and widely used cyanides are those of sodium and potassium; they are often referred to simply as "cyanide." Both are white, crystalline, chemically active compounds. They are used as insecticides, in making pigments, in metallurgy (e.g., electroplating and case hardening), and in refining gold and silver by the cyanide process. Organic cyanides are called nitriles. The ethyl ester of hydrogen cyanide (CH3CH2CN) is called variously ethyl cyanide, propionitrile, propane nitrile, nitrilopropane, and cyanoethane; propane nitrile is the approved name in the nomenclature system for organic chemistry adopted by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). Most cyanides are deadly poisons that cause respiratory failure. Symptoms of cyanide poisoning include an odor of bitter almond on the breath, dizziness, convulsions, collapse, and, often, froth on the mouth. In case of cyanide poisoning a doctor should be summoned immediately. If the poison was swallowed, vomiting should be induced. Artificial respiration should be used if needed.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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