Inorganic cyanide and nitrile compounds are distributed widely in the environment, chiefly as a result of anthropogenic activity but also through cyanide synthesis by a range of organisms including higher plants, fungi and bacteria. The major source of cyanide in soil and water is through the discharge of effluents containing a variety of inorganic cyanide and nitriles. Here the fate of cyanide compounds in soil and water is reviewed, identifying those factors that affect their persistence and which determine whether they are amenable to biological degradation. The exploitation of cyanides by a variety of taxa, as a mechanism to avoid predation or to inhibit competitors has led to the evolution in many organisms of enzymes that catalyse degradation of a range of cyanide compounds. Microorganisms expressing pathways involved in cyanide degradation are briefly reviewed and the current applications of bacteria and fungi in the biodegradation of cyanide contamination in the field are discussed. Finally, recent advances that offer an insight into the potential of microbial systems for the bioremediation of cyanide compounds under a range of environmental conditions are identified, and the future potential of these technologies for the treatment of cyanide pollution is discussed.