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Why is cyanide so deadly?

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Cyanide is a toxin that prevents the body from using oxygen. Inside of the cells of our body are the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. In the mitochondria, energy is created to do all of the things the cell needs to do. When oxygen is used, this process is much more efficient than when oxygen is not available. Cyanide binds to an enzyme in the mitochondria to prevent the use of oxygen. There is plenty around, but it cannot be used. Energy is not created, acids build up and cells start to die. Ingestion of as little as 50 grams of cyanide can be fatal, and exposures to gas levels more than 270ppm (parts per million) are fatal immediately. The OSHA 8 hour limit is 10 ppm. There are no signs and symptoms that can be used to definitively identify cyanide poisoning. Patients may be unconscious, or may have nausea, vomiting, headache or seizures. Cherry red skin has been described due to the body not using oxygen, but this is a late sign and is not often seen. In the hospital there ... more
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