Industrial Exposure

Cyanide compounds are both precursors and incidental by-products in the production of plastics, solvents, enamels, high-strength paper, paints, glues, wrinkle-resistant fabrics, herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. 9 The affinity of cyanide for metals makes it useful in the extraction of ores, in metal polishing, and in electroplating.9 It is also used to strip hair from hides in the leather industry. The once widespread use of cyanide as a fumigant resulted in many poisonings. 5 Cyanide is produced in industry by combining ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4) to form hydrogen cyanide gas (HCN). Commercial quantities of water-soluble salts such as sodium cyanide (NaCN) and potassium cyanide (KCN) are synthesized from hydrogen cyanide gas.9 HCN is readily liberated when cyanide salts are exposed to acid. Industrial exposures occur most commonly through inhalation; however, skin exposure to solutions of cyanide salts also has resulted in poisoning. Inadvertent ingestion of cyanide salts while eating in a contaminated work setting also has been proposed as a cause of accidental subacute poisoning in the workplace. 10

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