Anhydrous Ammonia Exposure Information

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By Aaron Hepker

What is anhydrous ammonia?
Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless, highly irritating gas with a sharp, suffocating odor.  People will notice the pungent odor at levels ranging from 5 – 50 parts per million (ppm).  Irritating effects generally begin at levels between 25-50 ppm.  More serious effects generally will not occur until levels are greater than 100 ppm. 

What are the immediate health effects of exposure to anhydrous ammonia?
Symptoms include burning of the eyes, nose, and throat after breathing even small amounts. With higher doses, coughing or choking may occur. Exposure to high levels of anhydrous ammonia can cause death from a swollen throat or from chemical burns to the lungs. Eye exposure to concentrated gas or liquid can cause serious corneal burns or blindness. Generally, the severity of symptoms depends on the degree of exposure.

What is the treatment for anhydrous ammonia exposure?
There is no specific treatment for the effects of anhydrous ammonia.  Immediate first aid includes providing fresh air, oxygen and flushing with water.

Are any future health effects likely to occur?
Most people recover from a single low exposure to anhydrous ammonia without any delayed or long-term effects. After a severe exposure, injury to the eyes, lungs, skin, or digestive system may continue to develop for 18 to 24 hours, and delayed effects primarily to the respiratory system or the eyes are possible. Anhydrous ammonia is not known to cause cancer.

What tests can be done if a person has been exposed to anhydrous ammonia?
If a severe exposure has occurred, blood and urine analyses, chest x-rays, pulmonary function testing and other tests may show whether the lungs have been injured. Testing is not needed in every case. Special eye examinations may also be conducted

What symptoms should I be most concerned about?
People who continue to experience coughing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, wheezing or high-pitched voice, chest pain or tightness, increased pain or a discharge from exposed eyes, increased redness or pain or a pus-like discharge in the area of a skin burn or stomach pain or vomiting should consult with a physician.

Information from the North Dakota Department of Health

 

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