Are you Aware of the Dangers of Ammonia?

by | Sep 25, 2020 | Latest News

Whilst ammonia is a colourless gas, it smells like rotten eggs. Inhaling ammonia in the air can cause immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. We explore the dangers of ammonia and what you need to do to get protected.

  1. Properties – Ammonia is a colourless gas, it’s mostly recognised by it pungent suffocating odour, which smells like rotten eggs.
  2. Dangers – Nose and throat irritation can result from ammonia exposure ranging from 24–50 parts per million (ppm) after ten minutes of exposure. With a higher ammonia concentration ranging from 72–134 ppm, the same irritation can occur in half the time. For a concentration of 700 ppm, immediate and severe irritation would likely occur. At a concentration of 5,000 ppm, respiratory spasms and rapid suffocation occurs. At 10,000 ppm, pulmonary edema and potentially fatal accumulation of liquid in the lungs would occur.
  3. Exposure Limits – HCN has a STEL (15 min average) of 35ppm and a TWA (8 hours) of 25ppm.
  4. Where is it found? – Ammonia (NH3) naturally exists in humans and in the environment. It is produced naturally from decomposition of organic matter, including plants, animals and animal waste. Ammonia is one of the most commonly produced industrial chemicals. that can be found in a variety of common industrial environments such as abatement processes, fertiliser plants, poultry farms, food processing, refrigeration and chemical plants.
  5. Symptoms – Ammonia will become extremely irritating as concentrations increase. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air causes immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract, and could cause respiratory distress or failure. Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation. Ammonia’s odour provides adequate early warning of its presence, but ammonia also causes olfactory fatigue (where the human nose blanks out the smell although the gas remains present), reducing awareness of prolonged exposure at low concentrations.
  6. What to do in the event of exposure? Move away from the hazardous area to a new location with lots of fresh air. If the skin has come into contact with NH3, wash with lots of soap and water. If eyes are burning (remove contacts) and rinse with clean water for at least 10 minutes.
  7. What actions should be taken to stay safe? If workers can smell ammonia, then they should be wearing PPE. Workers exposed to ammonia should seriously consider wearing portable single gas or multi-gas detectors. They monitor instantaneous and time-weighted average exposure to toxic levels of ammonia. Sites that are storing or using volumes of ammonia also have a responsibility to protect workers in and around storage vessels. For example, at an ammonia unloading bay, exposure potential could be greater than 300ppm, It’s recommended that breathing apparatus (SCBA) or full-face supplied air respirator are worn. For those not directly unloading but in the vicinity yet still face the dangers of exposure, a half mask respirator or powered air purifying respirator should be worn. Fixed detection systems may include a combination of toxic and flammable level detectors. Fixed systems can also be used for process control and ventilation control.

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