Chemical Spotlight: Ammonia
Posted on November 11, 2015 | in Health
What is Ammonia?
Ammonia is a colorless gas with a characteristically pungent odor. One of the most common industrial chemicals in the U.S., ammonia is used primarily as an agricultural fertilizer. Other uses for ammonia include:
- Household cleaner (especially for glass, porcelain, and stainless steel)
- Antimicrobial in food (especially beef)
- Laboratory production of nitrogen compoundsDespite its wide use in a variety of industries, ammonia is a caustic chemical that can pose several health hazards. Ammonia is toxic by inhalation, resulting in permanent lung damage and even death at high exposure levels. It is also extremely deadly for aquatic animals. As a result, it is vital to take necessary precautions when handling this chemical in the workplace or at home.
Potential Ammonia Health Hazards
Ammonia gas reacts instantly with the moisture in the skin, eyes, mouth, and respiratory tract to form a highly caustic chemical, ammonium hydroxide. This leads to quick corrosion of tissues and serious cellular damage, inflammation, and edema. At low concentrations, ammonia leads to coughing and irritation of the nose and throat. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia gas causes burning irritation of the nose and respiratory tract, respiratory distress or failure, and death.
Exposure to the skin and eyes can rapidly produce irritation, damage and even burns or frostbite. Ammonia solutions are also corrosive to the mouth, throat, and stomach when ingested.
Because of these serious hazards, be sure to use caution when handling ammonia gas in the workplace, or any household cleaners containing ammonia. In order to prevent accidental exposure to ammonia, we recommend use of the following personal protective gear:
- Splash goggles
- Vapor respirator
- Ammonia-resistant gloves and clothingEyewash stations and safety showers should be located near any work areas that contain ammonia. In the event of a spill or leak, use self-contained breathing equipment and stop the source of the leak, if possible. Ammonia runoff should be prevented from entering drains and sewers, as this chemical is toxic to aquatic wildlife.
First Aid for Ammonia Exposure
In the event of accidental exposure to ammonia solution or gas, follow these first aid guidelines:
- Eye Contact: Remove contact lenses, if present. Flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical aid.
- Skin Contact: Immediately remove contaminated clothing. Flush skin with water and contact a physician or poison center. Wash clothing before reuse.
- Ingestion: Do NOT induce vomiting. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person. Loosen tight clothing and seek immediate medical help.
- Inhalation: Remove to fresh air immediately and get medical aid. If breathing is difficult, administer oxygen. It may be dangerous to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to someone who inhaled ammonia.
Storage & Disposal for Ammonia
Ammonia can be flammable when stored as a condensed liquid, so it is important to keep it stored in a segregated, well-ventilated area away from heat, sunlight, and sources of ignition. Ensure that the container is kept tightly closed and sealed during storage. Ammonia must be prevented from entering the environment and, as with all chemicals, disposed of in accordance with local, state, and federal environmental regulations.
Need more safety information about Ammonia or additional chemicals in your workplace? Check out our extensive MSDS database to learn more.