What is prussic acid? (with photos)

A small amount of hydrogen cyanide, also called prussic acid, is found in the pits of nectarines.

Prussic acid, also known as hydrogen cyanide or HCN, is a useful and dangerous chemical compound. Although it is naturally present in some plants, this substance can also be synthesized through various chemical processes. While the substance is useful in many industries, it is also deadly poisonous to humans and has been used as a chemical weapon.

Cherry pits contain a small amount of prussic acid.

Acid was first discovered by scientist Carl Scheele in the 1780s, who would also discover and describe various elements. It was later examined by Joseph Gay-Lussac in the early 19th century and began to be used in mining. The first processes to obtain quantities of prussic acid included keeping ammonia on hot coal and combining coal, ammonia and sodium and mixing it with an acidic solution, which produces HCN gas.

The Nazis used prussic acid in the concentration camp gas.

The uses of prussic acid in industry are varied. The etching, explosives and dyeing processes make use of HCN. Historically, it has also been used in worms or insect poisons, but has recently been replaced by materials that are less toxic to humans. The United States is a leading producer of prussic acid for industrial purposes.

Hydrogen cyanide is extremely poisonous to mammals and high concentrations can kill a human within minutes. It is an important component of Zyklon B, a branded gas used by the Nazis during World War II to kill prisoners in the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps. Originally developed as a pesticide by a German Jew named Fritz Haber, Zyklon B was used in the gas chambers of concentration camps, resulting in the deaths of countless numbers of prisoners.

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Prussic acid is extremely poisonous and high concentrations can kill a person in minutes.

Under the restrictions of the Chemical Weapons Convention around the world, prussic acid is considered a Class 3 substance, meaning it has large-scale use for industrial purposes. Any country that produces more than a specified amount of the material must declare it and is subject to inspection. There are also regulations that guide the export of material to other nations.

Occasionally, high concentrations of prussic acid occur naturally in some plants, particularly sorghum-related plants. Small amounts of the compound are found in fruit with stones, such as cherries and plums, although this amount is usually not enough to harm a human. Foraging or grazing animals are susceptible to prussic acid poisoning if they consume plants in high concentration. Poisoning restricts oxygen intake and causes asphyxia, so treatment is difficult and must be carried out immediately by a veterinarian. If you have an animal that you think is sick or has died from this variety of poisonings, obtain samples of any material the animal has eaten and take it to a chemical laboratory.

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