Potassium cyanide is most often found in pellets or capsules used for gold and silver ore extraction, fumigation and electroplating in industrial settings. For example, companies processing ore may dissolve potassium cyanide tablets in liquid to create a diluted solution that helps separate the precious metal from other components of the ore. Potassium cyanide is a highly toxic and fast-acting substance, and it also functions effectively as an insecticide.
Potassium cyanide is a white substance made up of tiny crystals or granules. Potassium cyanide has a detectable scent and frequently described as having a musty or bitter almond smell. When broken down, it discharges small amounts of hydrogen cyanide gas, which can be hazardous when inhaled in enclosed or poorly ventilated areas. Hydrogen cyanide gas prevents the body from circulating healthy amounts of oxygen, causing essential organs to fail. Workers exposed to potassium cyanide on the job are typically required to wear chemical-resistant clothing and protective breathing apparatuses to avoid health risks.
Harmful exposure to potassium cyanide may occur after consuming contaminated food or beverages, inhaling droplets in the air or accidentally absorbing the chemical through the skin or eyes. Side effects, such as lightheadedness, vomiting, nausea and anxiety, rapidly take effect as the brain, lungs and cardiovascular system are increasingly deprived of oxygen. Severe cases can lead to rapid respiratory shutdown, seizures, muscle spasms, comas or death. Skin and eye contact causes physical irritation, while ingestion may cause stomach pains and vomiting as the stomach lining becomes corroded.