The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/auschwitz/cyanide//chemical-weapons.cyanide

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 1996 18:32:52 -0700
From: (Mark Van Alstine)
Subject: Hydrogen Cyanide
Newsgroups: alt.revisionism


Hydrogen Cyanide

Source: A FOA Briefing Book on Chemical Weapons

Hydrogen cyanide is usually included among the CW agents causing general
poisoning. There is no confirmed information on this substance being used
in chemical warfare. However, it has been reported that hydrogen cyanide
was used by Iraq in the war against Iran and against the Kurds in northern
Iraq during the 1980's. Hydrogen cyanide has high toxicity and in
sufficient concentrations it rapidly leads to death. During the Second
World War, a form of hydrogen cyanide (Zyklon B) was used in the Nazi gas

At room temperature, hydrogen cyanide is a colourless liquid which boils
at 26 oC. The most important route of poisoning is through inhalation.
Both gaseous and liquid hydrogen cyanide, as well as cyanide salts in
solution, can also be taken up through the skin. Its high volatility
probably makes hydrogen cyanide difficult to use in warfare since there
are problems in achieving sufficiently high concentrations outdoors. On
the other hand, the concentration of hydrogen
cyanide may rapidly reach lethal levels if it is released in confined spaces. 

The most important toxic effect of hydrogen cyanide is by inhibiting the
metal-containing enzymes. One such enzyme is cytochromoxidase, containing
iron. This enzyme system is responsible for the energy-providing processes
in the cell where oxygen is utilized, i.e., cell respiration. When cell
respiration ceases, it is no longer possible to maintain normal cell
functions, which may lead to cell mortality. 

Symptoms of cyanide poisoning vary and depend on, for example, route of
poisoning, total dose and the exposure time. If hydrogen cyanide has been
inhaled, the initial symptoms are restlessness and increased respiratory
rate. Other early symptoms are giddiness, headache, palpitations and
respiratory difficulty. These are later followed by vomiting, convulsions,
respiratory failure and unconsciousness. If the poisoning occurs rapidly,
e.g., as a result of extremely high concentrations in the air, there is no
time for symptoms to develop and exposed persons may then suddenly
collapse and die. 

Today, there is no medical antidote against cyanide poisoning within the
Swedish Armed Forces. The treatment given to civilians is based on
encouraging and speeding-up the body's own ability to excrete cyanide and
to bind cyanide in the blood. The enzyme rhodanese is present in the body,
mainly in the liver, and together with sulphur transforms cyanide into
thiocyanate, which is passed
out in the urine. By supplying sulphur in the form of sodium thiosulphate
(Na2S2O3) the detoxification can be speeded up. The cyanide ion has high
affinity to trivalent iron (Fe3+). The divalent iron in blood haemoglobin
can be oxidized to trivalent, which leads to the formation of
methaemoglobin which binds cyanide ions. The formation of methaemoglobin
can be achieved by supplying sodium nitrate (NaNO2) or dimethylaminophenol

Cyanide can also be bound by metallic ions supplied to the blood in
suitable form. Among others, cobalt can be supplied in the form of a
cobalt complex or as hydroxycobalamin (vitamin B12). 

In cases of poisoning with hydrogen cyanide it is of the utmost importance
that countermeasures are immediately introduced. For this reason, a
medical antidote (PAPP, para-aminopropiophenone) for use as a pretreatment
is being developed in the United Kingdom. 

Relationship between concentration and effects when inhaling hydrogen cyanide

 Concentration (mg/m3)
                        Immediately lethal
                        Lethal after 10 minutes
                        Lethal after 30 minutes
                        Highly dangerous (fatal) after 30-60 min.
                        Endurable for 20 min. - 1 h without effect
                        Light symptoms after several hours


Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.