Ammonia is a naturally occurring gas found in the atmosphere through decay process, in human and animal wastes, rainwater, seawater, soil, etc. It is considered essential for the growth and production of crops, and hence is a crucial ingredient in fertilizers.
Anhydrous ammonia is a concentrated version of ammonia. The term ‘anhydrous’ means ‘without water’, thereby referring to the absence of water in its derivation process. Its chemical formula is NH3, consisting of one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen. Reportedly, worldwide, 110 million tons of agricultural nitrogen is applied in the form of anhydrous ammonia. It is stored in the form of liquid under specialized conditions, and is injected into the soil to promote growth and yield of crops. The following section explains why NH3 fertilizers have become so popular in the market.
Benefits of Using Anhydrous Ammonia Fertilizers
Although nitrogen amounts to more than three-quarters of the Earth’s atmosphere, it isn’t available in an accessible form. Therefore, anhydrous ammonia acts as a means to provide this readily available nitrogen to the soil, so as to boost the growth of crops.
There are many reasons that make this fertilizer a feasible option for many crop producers worldwide. Firstly, it is readily available in the market; secondly, it is the least costly nitrogen fertilizer; and thirdly, it is easy to apply. However, its biggest advantage is that it contains the highest concentration of nitrogen as compared to any other fertilizer available in the market―82 percent.
This gas is mostly used for the production of crops including wheat, corn, and sorghum. In the United States, 30 percent of agricultural nitrogen is applied in the form of anhydrous ammonia. It is highly useful as it efficaciously provides essential nutrients to the soil and plants.
Possible Risks and Dangers
Not only is it highly efficient, it is also considered to be the most dangerous liquid used in a farm. This is because it is highly toxic, and can also inflame under certain conditions. Therefore, it needs to be stored, transported, and used with a great deal of caution and care. Anhydrous ammonia being stored in liquified form, can easily evaporate when exposed to normal temperature. When this happens, it can cause serious health hazards to the ones exposed. These include:
➜ Dryness and irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat.
➜ Dehydration and severe chemical burns and blisters when exposed to the skin.
➜ Breathing difficulties and coughing.
➜ Inhalation in gaseous form can lead to fatal damage of the lungs.
➜ Heavy exposure to the eyes can also lead to vision impairment and even blindness.
➜ Swollen throat may result from intense exposure, leading to choking.
➜ Death has also been reported when exposed to this chemical severely.
Note that the severity of damage would depend upon the degree of exposure. While a little exposure may not pose a serious problem, a severe one calls for immediate medical attention.
To minimize accidental exposure, there are strict laws pertaining to the handling and storage of this fertilizer. According to the National Ag Safety Database, “specially made tanks strong enough to withstand internal pressures of a minimum of 250 pounds per square inch (psi)” should be used to store the liquid form of this chemical. Also, only 85 percent of the storage tank should be filled, leaving the remaining space for the vapor pressure that may form due to the rise in the outside temperature.
Another compulsory thing to do is to paint the storage container with white color. This is because light colors reflect the sunlight and help keep the temperature cooler. Also, this chemical is corrosive in nature, especially when it comes to copper, zinc, and their alloys. Therefore, it must be stored in special high-strength steel or other approved material, states the University of Minnesota.
Having discussed the hazards associated with NH3, it is needless to say that those handling this liquid should be equipped with protective clothing and accessories. These include, heavy-duty long-sleeved shirt, tight chemical-proof goggles, rubber gloves having an extended cuff that fit tightly enough to prevent the liquid to seep through but are also loose enough to remove the gloves in case of an emergency. Note, that one should never wear contacts while dealing with anhydrous ammonia, as it can get under the lens and permanently damage the eyes.
In a nutshell, it is imperative to follow all the instructions and guidelines that come along with using, storing, and applying this fertilizer. It is crucial for all who handle this chemical to be well-versed and well-equipped with the dos, don’ts, and emergency first-aid measures pertaining to NH3.
For minimizing the damage caused due to accidental exposure, it is essential to have an abundant supply of water. In fact, it is mandatory for all nurse tanks and applicator tanks to have a container for storing a minimum of 5 gallons of clean water. Even the tractor should have an extra five-gallon container in case of emergencies. It is recommended that the water is changed on a daily basis.
It is also advised for those working with ammonia on a regular basis, to keep an eight-ounce eye wash plastic bottle handy at all times, in case the chemical accidentally sprays into your eyes. The following are some basic steps that you need to follow in case of an emergency.
➜ Move to a safe zone, away from the contaminated surrounding.
➜ Thoroughly flush the exposed area with water for at least 15 minutes.
➜ If the eyes are affected, keep the eyelids open and flush water, ensuring that the eyes are thoroughly cleaned.
➜ Remove the contaminated clothing immediately.
➜ In case NH3 has been swallowed, drink lots of water to dilute the chemical in the body, or, try to vomit.
➜ In case the victim is unconscious or in trauma, do not do the previous step.
➜ Always vomit keeping your head below your hips to prevent the barf from entering the lungs.
➜ Perform CPR if the victim is not breathing.
➜ Refrain from applying any creams or ointments, as these will seal the chemical in the skin and worsen the damage.
➜ Contact a doctor immediately, or seek emergency medical assistance in case of serious exposure symptoms.
One good thing is that this chemical has a strong pungent smell that instantly repels your senses, therefore, one cannot unknowingly inhale dangerous amounts. However, there is a chance where prolonged exposure of ammonia may alter your senses, making you unable to detect its presence.
When the safety measures are kept in check on a regular basis, and all the caution has been taken, using anhydrous ammonia can be quite feasible. However, considering the amount of accidents and mishaps that have been occurring at storage facilities, or even during its transportation, care and caution is highly essential for safe usage.