Sodium cyanide

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Sodium cyanide
Sodium cyanide.svg
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.005.091 OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
EC Number
  • 205-599-4
PubChem CID
RTECS number
  • VZ7525000
UN number 1689
  • InChI=1S/CN.Na/c1-2;/q-1;+1 Yes check.svgY
  • InChI=1S/CN.Na/c1-2;/q-1;+1
  • [C-]#N.[Na+]
Molar mass 49.0072 g/mol
Appearancewhite solid
Odor faint almond-like
Density 1.5955 g/cm3
Melting point 563.7 °C (1,046.7 °F; 836.9 K)
Boiling point 1,496 °C (2,725 °F; 1,769 K)
48.15 g/100 mL (10 °C)
63.7 g/100 mL (25 °C)
Solubility soluble in ammonia, methanol, ethanol
very slightly soluble in dimethylformamide, SO2
insoluble in dimethyl sulfoxide
Thermochemistry [1]
70.4 J·mol−1·K−1
Std molar
115.6 J·mol−1·K−1
−87.5 kJ·mol−1
−76.4 kJ·mol−1
Enthalpy of fusion fHfus)
8.79 kJ·mol−1
GHS labelling:
GHS-pictogram-skull.svg GHS-pictogram-pollu.svg
NFPA 704 (fire diamond)
NFPA 704.svgHealth 4: Very short exposure could cause death or major residual injury. E.g. VX gasFlammability 0: Will not burn. E.g. waterInstability 0: Normally stable, even under fire exposure conditions, and is not reactive with water. E.g. liquid nitrogenSpecial hazards (white): no code
Flash point Non-flammable
Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):
6.44 mg/kg (rat, oral)
4 mg/kg (sheep, oral)
15 mg/kg (mammal, oral)
8 mg/kg (rat, oral) [2]
NIOSH (US health exposure limits):
PEL (Permissible)
TWA 5 mg/m3 [3]
REL (Recommended)
C 5 mg/m3 (4.7 ppm) [10-minute] [3]
IDLH (Immediate danger)
25 mg/m3 (as CN) [3]
Safety data sheet (SDS) ICSC 1118
Related compounds
Other cations
Potassium cyanide
Related compounds
Hydrogen cyanide
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
X mark.svgN  verify  (what is  Yes check.svgYX mark.svgN ?)

Sodium cyanide is a poisonous compound with the formula Na C N. It is a white, water-soluble solid. Cyanide has a high affinity for metals, which leads to the high toxicity of this salt. Its main application, in gold mining, also exploits its high reactivity toward metals. It is a moderately strong base.


Production and chemical properties

Sodium cyanide is produced by treating hydrogen cyanide with sodium hydroxide: [4]

HCN + NaOH → NaCN + H2O

Worldwide production was estimated at 500,000 tons in the year 2006. Formerly it was prepared by the Castner process involving the reaction of sodium amide with carbon at elevated temperatures.

NaNH2 + C → NaCN + H2

The structure of solid NaCN is related to that of sodium chloride. [5] The anions and cations are each six-coordinate. Potassium cyanide (KCN) adopts a similar structure. [6]

When treated with acid, it forms the toxic gas hydrogen cyanide:

NaCN + H+ → HCN + Na+

Because the salt is derived from a weak acid, sodium cyanide readily reverts to HCN by hydrolysis; the moist solid emits small amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which is thought to smell like bitter almonds (not everyone can smell it—the ability thereof is due to a genetic trait [7] ). Sodium cyanide reacts rapidly with strong acids to release hydrogen cyanide. This dangerous process represents a significant risk associated with cyanide salts. It is detoxified most efficiently with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to produce sodium cyanate (NaOCN) and water: [4]

NaCN + H2O2 → NaOCN + H2O


Cyanide mining

Gold cyanidation (also known as the cyanide process) is the dominant technique for extracting gold, much of which is obtained from low-grade ore. More than 70% of cyanide consumption globally is used for this purpose. The application exploits the high affinity of gold(I) for cyanide, which induces gold metal to oxidize and dissolve in the presence of air (oxygen) and water, producing the salt sodium dicyanoaurate (or sodium gold cyanide) (NaAu(CN)2): [4]

4 Au + 8 NaCN + O2 + 2 H2O → 4 Na[Au(CN)2] + 4 NaOH

A similar process uses potassium cyanide (KCN, a close relative of sodium cyanide) to produce potassium dicyanoaurate (KAu(CN)2).

Chemical feedstock

Several commercially significant chemical compounds are derived from cyanide, including cyanuric chloride, cyanogen chloride, and many nitriles. In organic synthesis, cyanide, which is classified as a strong nucleophile, is used to prepare nitriles, which occur widely in many chemicals, including pharmaceuticals. Illustrative is the synthesis of benzyl cyanide by the reaction of benzyl chloride and sodium cyanide. [8]

Niche uses

Being highly toxic, sodium cyanide is used to kill or stun rapidly such as in collecting jars used by entomologists and in widely illegal cyanide fishing.


Sodium cyanide, like other soluble cyanide salts, is among the most rapidly acting of all known poisons. NaCN is a potent inhibitor of respiration, acting on mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase and hence blocking electron transport. This results in decreased oxidative metabolism and oxygen utilization. Lactic acidosis then occurs as a consequence of anaerobic metabolism. An oral dosage as small as 200–300 mg can be fatal.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyanide</span> Any molecule with a cyano group (–C≡N)

In chemistry, a cyanide is a chemical compound that contains a C≡N functional group. This group, known as the cyano group, consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom.

Hydrogen cyanide is a chemical compound with the formula HCN and structural formula H−C≡N. It is a colorless, extremely poisonous, and flammable liquid that boils slightly above room temperature, at 25.6 °C (78.1 °F). HCN is produced on an industrial scale and is a highly valued precursor to many chemical compounds ranging from polymers to pharmaceuticals. Large-scale applications are for the production of potassium cyanide and adiponitrile, used in mining and plastics, respectively. It is more toxic than solid cyanide compounds due to its volatile nature.

Acetonitrile, often abbreviated MeCN, is the chemical compound with the formula CH3CN and structure H3C−C≡N. This colourless liquid is the simplest organic nitrile. It is produced mainly as a byproduct of acrylonitrile manufacture. It is used as a polar aprotic solvent in organic synthesis and in the purification of butadiene. The N≡C−C skeleton is linear with a short C≡N distance of 1.16 Å.

In organic chemistry, a nitrile is any organic compound that has a −C≡N functional group. The name of the compound is composed of a base, which includes the carbon of the −C≡N, suffixed with "nitrile", so for example CH3CH2C≡N is called "propionitrile". The prefix cyano- is used interchangeably with the term nitrile in industrial literature. Nitriles are found in many useful compounds, including methyl cyanoacrylate, used in super glue, and nitrile rubber, a nitrile-containing polymer used in latex-free laboratory and medical gloves. Nitrile rubber is also widely used as automotive and other seals since it is resistant to fuels and oils. Organic compounds containing multiple nitrile groups are known as cyanocarbons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Potassium cyanide</span> Highly toxic crystalline salt

Potassium cyanide is a compound with the formula KCN. It is a colorless salt, similar in appearance to sugar, that is highly soluble in water. Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewellery for chemical gilding and buffing. Potassium cyanide is highly toxic, and a dose of 200 to 300 milligrams will kill nearly any human.

Cyanogen chloride is a highly toxic chemical compound with the formula CNCl. This linear, triatomic pseudohalogen is an easily condensed colorless gas. More commonly encountered in the laboratory is the related compound cyanogen bromide, a room-temperature solid that is widely used in biochemical analysis and preparation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sodium azide</span> Chemical compound

Sodium azide is an inorganic compound with the formula NaN3. This colorless salt is the gas-forming component in some car airbag systems. It is used for the preparation of other azide compounds. It is an ionic substance, is highly soluble in water, and is very acutely poisonous.

Pseudohalogens are polyatomic analogues of halogens, whose chemistry, resembling that of the true halogens, allows them to substitute for halogens in several classes of chemical compounds. Pseudohalogens occur in pseudohalogen molecules, inorganic molecules of the general forms PsPs or Ps–X, such as cyanogen; pseudohalide anions, such as cyanide ion; inorganic acids, such as hydrogen cyanide; as ligands in coordination complexes, such as ferricyanide; and as functional groups in organic molecules, such as the nitrile group. Well-known pseudohalogen functional groups include cyanide, cyanate, thiocyanate, and azide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mercury(II) cyanide</span> Chemical compound

Mercury(II) cyanide, also known as mercuric cyanide, is a poisonous compound of mercury and cyanide. It is an odorless, toxic white powder. It is highly soluble in polar solvents such as water, alcohol, and ammonia; slightly soluble in ether; and insoluble in benzene and other hydrophobic solvents.

Benzyl chloride, or α-chlorotoluene, is an organic compound with the formula C6H5CH2Cl. This colorless liquid is a reactive organochlorine compound that is a widely used chemical building block.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chromyl chloride</span> Chemical compound

Chromyl chloride is an inorganic compound with the formula CrO2Cl2. It is a reddish brown compound that is a volatile liquid at room temperature, which is unusual for transition metal compounds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Selenium compounds</span> Chemical compounds containing selenium

Selenium compounds are compounds containing the element selenium (Se). Among these compounds, selenium has various oxidation states, the most common ones being −2, +4, and +6. Selenium compounds exist in nature in the form of various minerals, such as clausthalite, guanajuatite, tiemannite, crookesite etc., and can also coexist with sulfide minerals such as pyrite and chalcopyrite. For many mammals, selenium compounds are essential. For example, selenomethionine and selenocysteine are selenium-containing amino acids present in the human body. Selenomethionine participates in the synthesis of selenoproteins. The reduction potential and pKa (5.47) of selenocysteine are lower than those of cysteine, making some proteins have antioxidant activity. Selenium compounds have important applications in semiconductors, glass and ceramic industries, medicine, metallurgy and other fields.

Acetone cyanohydrin (ACH) is an organic compound used in the production of methyl methacrylate, the monomer of the transparent plastic polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), also known as acrylic. It liberates hydrogen cyanide easily, so it is used as a source of such. For this reason, this cyanohydrin is also highly toxic.

In organic synthesis, cyanation is the attachment or substitution of a cyanide group on various substrates. Such transformations are high-value because they generate C-C bonds. Furthermore nitriles are versatile functional groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cadmium cyanide</span> Chemical compound

Cadmium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula Cd(CN)2. It is a white crystalline compound that is used in electroplating. It is very toxic, along with other cadmium and cyanide compounds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ammonium cyanide</span> Chemical compound

Ammonium cyanide is an unstable inorganic compound with the formula NH4CN.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Calcium cyanide</span> Chemical compound

Calcium cyanide is the inorganic compound with the formula Ca(CN)2. It is the calcium salt derived from hydrocyanic acid. It is a white solid, although the pure material is rarely encountered. It hydrolyses readily (even in moist air) to release hydrogen cyanide and is very toxic.

Propionitrile, also known as ethyl cyanide and propanenitrile, is an organic compound with the formula CH3CH2CN. It is a simple aliphatic nitrile. The compound is a colourless, water-soluble liquid. It is used as a solvent and a precursor to other organic compounds.

Potassium dicyanoaurate (or potassium gold cyanide) is an inorganic compound with formula K[Au(CN)2]. It is a colorless to white solid that is soluble in water and slightly soluble in alcohol. The salt itself is often not isolated, but solutions of the dicyanoaurate ion ([Au(CN)2]) are generated on a large scale in the extraction of gold from its ores.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gold(I) cyanide</span> Chemical compound

Gold(I) cyanide is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula AuCN. It is the binary cyanide of gold(I). It is an odourless, tasteless yellow solid. Wet gold(I) cyanide is unstable to light and will become greenish. Gold(I) cyanide itself is only of academic interest, but its derivative dicyanoaurate is an intermediate in gold cyanidation, the extraction of gold from its ores.


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