Suffredin- Changing County Government  
 

Accountability
Forest Preserves
Public Safety
Cook County Budget
Forest Pres. Budget
Property Tax Appeal
Health & Hospitals
Land Bank Authority
Policy Resolutions
Unsung Heroine

 

   
 
   
   
 
   
     
  Office phone numbers:  
   
 
 

The Cook County Code of Ordinances are the current laws of Cook County.

   
 

Search current and proposed Cook County Legislation in Larry's exclusive legislative library.

   
  Cook County is the second most populous county in the nation. It is the 19th largest government in the U.S.
   
     
     
     



Cyanide: 'A poison we fear'

Thursday, January 10, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Cynthia Dizikes and Annie Sweeney

If Urooj Khan's remains are exhumed in coming days as expected, authorities will attempt to retrace the devastating course of one molecule through his body.

Cyanide, a toxic combination of carbon and nitrogen, exists throughout nature in trace amounts in certain plants, seeds and soils. It is also produced by some bacteria and fungi.

In its pure solid or gas forms, however, cyanide can be acutely poisonous, earning it an ignoble reputation in human history as an efficient killer — from World War II Nazi death camps to the Jonestown massacre to the Chicago Tylenol murders.

"It is a poison we fear," said Frank Paloucek, a pharmacist and toxicologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It is a really dangerous poison, and once you get enough of it, there is not much we can do."

That appears to be the case for Khan, a West Rogers Park businessman who died of cyanide poisoning in July just weeks after winning a million-dollar lottery jackpot. The Cook County medical examiner's office initially found that Khan died of natural causes, and he was buried in Rosehill Cemetery. But after a relative voiced concern, extensive toxicological tests showed he died of lethal levels of cyanide. Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors are investigating his death as a homicide.

The murder mystery, first revealed in the Tribune on Monday, has sparked worldwide interest. It comes more than 30 years after the murders of seven Chicago-area residents who ingested cyanide-spiked Tylenol capsules spread fear across the country. The FBI reopened its investigation into the killings four years ago, but no one has ever been charged.

"In the rare event of homicidal poisoning, cyanide is not an uncommon (substance) to use," Dr. Gregory Schmunk, a forensic pathologist and president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said Thursday.

Indeed, just last year, the wife of a former Communist Party leader in China was accused of killing a British businessman after ordering her butler to spike his drink with cyanide.

It is, however, more commonly seen in suicides, such as in the case of an Arizona businessman who poisoned himself in a courtroom with cyanide last year after he was found guilty of arson, according to experts.

The compound kills quickly.

Once inside the human body, it prevents cells from using oxygen. If enough cells absorb cyanide, a person's body and brain will become so oxygen-deprived that their tissues will begin to die.

As the body fights to provide more oxygen, heart and breathing rates rise. Cramping and headaches can occur, followed by loss of consciousness and eventually death.

Death may come in anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours, Paloucek said.

Cyanide is typically detected during a medical examination by a scarlet red discoloration or a "bitter almond" odor emitting from the body, according to experts. But neither is a sure measure — darker pigmentation can mask red skin coloration, and many people can't smell cyanide.


In its powder form, a toxic dose of cyanide may only be about 200 milligrams, roughly the amount of any common pain medication pill, according to Paloucek.

"We are dealing with a poison that has a very fast knockdown rate," said John H. Trestrail III, a clinical and forensic toxicologist who consults with law enforcement agencies on such cases.

For that reason, investigators have been looking closely at the events that happened around the time that Khan died, including the last meal he ate, which his wife acknowledged preparing.

Cyanide can come as a gas or in a solid powder that looks like white sugar. It is commonly used in research laboratories, in mining to extract certain metals and by jewelers. It also used to be widely used in the United States to kill various pests.

"One hundred years ago, you could go into a pharmacy and buy cyanide to kill wasps," Trestrail said. "But you don't do that anymore."

Now cyanide suppliers maintain a "poison register" that would include information like proof of purchase, the name of the buyer and its intended use, according to Trestrail.

Outside the United States, however, cyanide is readily available, according to Paloucek. And even within the U.S., there have been cases of people giving false information to cyanide suppliers to obtain the substance.

"If you're persistent, it is not hard to get your hands on it," Schmunk said.

Local authorities plan to ask a Cook County Circuit Court judge on Friday for permission to exhume Khan's body in the next week or two. The remains would be autopsied by the medical examiner's office, according to its spokeswoman, Mary Paleologos.

Investigators will take samples of Khan's stomach contents to see if and how the cyanide was ingested, Paleologos said. They will also take more fluid and blood samples and look at other organs such as the lungs, to see if it may have been inhaled, she said. Investigators will also try to rule out chronic cyanide poisoning in which long-term exposure to the compound may have contributed to his death.

"A lot depends on if the body is in good or poor condition," Paleologos said. "If it's in good condition, of course (the medical examiner) can get decent samples, but if it's in poor condition, the quality of the samples will be poor as well."




Recent Headlines

Woman, 19, arrested after escaping police custody at Cook County courthouse
Sunday, December 09, 2018
WLS ABC Chicago 7

Here's an exciting prospect: A boring assessor's office
Saturday, December 08, 2018
Crain's Chicago Business

Sheriff starts unique inmate program to combat Chicago's gun epidemic
Thursday, December 06, 2018
RTV 6 Indianapolis

Staff feud at tax appeals board turns nasty
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
Crain's Chicago Business

Cook County Tax Bills Posted Online Three Months Early
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
CBS Chicago

County Board makes it easier to choose Preckwinkle successor
Tuesday, December 04, 2018
Chicago Sun-Times

New Cook County assessor vows end to favoritism as he takes office
Monday, December 03, 2018
Crain's Chicago Business

New Cook County Board members sworn in Monday
Monday, December 03, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Cook County referendums: 'Yes' to everything
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Chicago City Wire

Glenview to discuss Cook County minimum wage, paid sick leave ordinances in December
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Wilmette reverses course, fully adopts both county minimum wage and sick time rules
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Chicago Tribune

What Pritzker's minimum wage increase plan could mean for the suburbs
Monday, November 26, 2018
Daily Herald

Cook County sheriff’s vehicle struck during ISP pursuit on I-294
Sunday, November 25, 2018
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County 'Tails' program offers redemption for inmates, dogs
Thursday, November 22, 2018
Daily Herald

Cook County correctional officer owns bar where security guard Jemel Roberson shot by cop, officials say
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Chicago Tribune

More than 2 months after sisters were killed in crash with Cook County sheriff's officer, family still waits for answers
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Jail guard’s retaliation suit can proceed
Monday, November 19, 2018
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

Northbrook will revisit Cook County minimum wage ordinance in May
Sunday, November 18, 2018
Chicago Tribune

Suffredin: County to seek 'safeguards' for golf course road
Friday, November 16, 2018
Evanston NOW

She's been waiting 15 months for her rape kit to be processed. A new proposal to track evidence aims to change that.
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Chicago Tribune

all news items

Paid for by Larry Suffredin and not at taxpayer expense. A Haymarket Production.
^ TOP