The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Merck Index: HCN

... what the Merck Index says about the subject, as a form of reference. This is from the Ninth Edition 1976, page 632, entry 4688 "Hydrogen Cyanide."

-Hydrocyanic acid;- "Blausaeure" (German). CHN; mol wt 27.03 ... HCN. Prepd on a large scale by the catalytic oxidation of ammonia-methane mixtures [refs omitted]. May also be prepd by the catalytic decompn of formamide. Conveniently prepd in the laboratory by acidifying NaCN or K4[Fe(CN)6]. [Editor's note: this last formula is quite similar to, but different from Prussian Blue, also a major topic in the Leuchter Report. Prussian Blue is Ferric Ferrocyanide, or Ferric hexacyanoferrate (II). The formula is Fe4[Fe(CN)6]3. The =ferric= salt of ferrocyanide is insoluble in water. Other salts, such as the =potassium= salt of ferrocyanide, are quite soluble in water] [more refs omitted]

Colorless gas or liquid; characteristic odor; very weakly acid (does not redden litmus); burns in air with a blue flame; =intensely poisonous= even when mixed with air. d(gas) 0.941 (air = 1) [Editor's note: notice, the gas is LIGHTER than air]; d(liq) 0.687. mp -13.4. bp 25.6 [ latest defense of Leuchter made a big deal out of how the gas would condense out on the cold walls. This would clearly happen to some extent in a cold room. If the room were filled with people, the gas would stay warm] Miscible with water, alc; slightly sol in ether. LC50 [lethal concentration that kills 50% of test animals, NOTICE that this is dependent BOTH on time and on concentration!] in rats, mice, dogs: 544 ppm (5 min), 169 ppm (30 min), 300 ppm (3 min), [ref omitted].

Human toxicity: High concn produces tachypnea (causing increased intake of cyanide) [tachy = rapid, pnea = breathing] then dyspnea [dys = difficult, pnea = breathing] paralysis, unconsciousness, convulsions, and respiratory arrest. Headache, vertigo, nausea, and vomiting may occur with lesser concentrations. Chronic exposure over long periods may cause fatigue, weakness. Exposure to 150 ppm for 1/2 to 1 hr may endanger life. Death may result from a few min exposure to 300 ppm. Average fatal dose [ingested] 50 to 60 mg. =Antidote= Sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate.

Use: The compressed gas is used for exterminating rodents and insects and for killing insects on trees, etc. =Must be handled by specially trained experts.=

[end of article]

Cyanide is a small molecule. Basically it is toxic because it resembles the oxygen molecule, O2 or OO looks like HCN to the binding sites in the mitochondria and also probably to the heme groups in hemoglobin and myoglobin. If Cyanide "sits down" on the cytochrome a/a3 complex at the end of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, then the oxygen you breathe no longer does you any good. You can't use it as an acceptor for high energy electrons, and you can't make ATP by the usual method of oxidative phosphorylation. Your body makes you breathe faster at first, in an attempt to overcome it, and then cells start dying from lack of oxygen and lack of ATP energy.

In general, the statements about chemistry in the newest defense of the Leuchter report seem valid. The =premises= are of course open to question or wrong. Yes, high concentrations of cyanide will cause formation of prussian blue on cold wet bricks that contain high levels of iron ions. But were the bricks really cold and wet? Was the air cold enough for the HCN to condense?

Anyway, I hope this information proves useful. I teach Biochemistry at Rutgers University, and that's where my information about cyanide toxicity comes from. The Merck Index is a standard reference book that probably every library has.


The original plaintext version of this file is available via ftp.

[ Index ]

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.