If ingested, cyanide can kill someone in about five minutes.
The chemical is commonly produced in a salt or crystal form and tastes and smells like bitter almonds, that is, if the olfactory senses can detect it at all.
“Probably half the population, or a little more, is genetically incapable of smelling or tasting it,” said Dr. Michael Wahl, medical director of the Illinois Poison Center.
Between 200 and 300 milligrams constitutes a fatal dose, he said.
Nausea, vomiting, seizures, confusion and lack of consciousness have been known to precede death.
The chemical, once absorbed, terminates respiration at a cellular level.
It is used in electroplating, film developing and the plastics and rubber industries, said Dr. Barry Rumack, former president of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
“The Chicago area I am confident has all kinds of industrial industries and laboratories that use cyanide, but it’s not something you can go and buy a bottle of in a store somewhere,” he said.
And though it can’t be made from household products, cyanide is available on the Internet, said Wahl, who wasn’t certain whether safeguards are in place to prevent sale to the general public.
A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2006 would have required sellers of cyanide to obtain a license and to record transactions and how the purchaser intended to use the chemical, but the bill died in committee.