Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Cyanide Death
Name: donna
Status: student
Age: 18
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Around 1999 

how does exposure to cyanide cause death immediately.

Cyanide binds to hemoglobin, the blood's oxygen-carrying protein, better than oxygen does. When cyanide is bound to the hemoglobin, the blood can't pick up oxygen in the lungs and carry it to the body's tissues, and the body's cells die from lack of oxygen.

Dr. Barrans

Hi Donna...

You know that inhalation of hydrogen cyanide, or ingestion of cyanides causes death. HCN, hydrogen cyanide is a highly volatile liquid and that hasten its lethal effect. The reason of this is the inhibition of the oxidative processes of the cells. Rapid death may be caused by swallowing as little as 300 milligrams of the cyanides or inhaling 100 milligrams of HCN.

The poisoning results from the following: the cyanide ion [ (CN) minus} is quite small and quickly makes its way into the body cells, where it binds to the iron in the heme of one of the cytochromes. As an immediate result the respiratory chain shuts down by inhibiting electron transfer. Cell respiratory process then ceases and the period from ingestion to death is only a few minutes away.

Because the poison acts so fast, recovery from sublethal doses will depend from the promptness of antidotes administration.

Since cyanides are used in many industrial process always there are possibilities of fatalities from occupational poisoning. An emergency treatment includes amyl nitrite, sodium nitrite or a 25% solution of sodium thiosulfate.

One must be very careful then!

Thanks for asking NEWTON!

(Dr. Mabel Rodrigues)

Cyanide is competes with oxygen as the final electron acceptor in the electron transport chain. Without oxygen the body cannot complete cellular respiration which makes energy available to the body.

Van Hoeck

Click here to return to the Chemistry Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory