The Facts on Ammonia and the Need for nh3 Monitoring

 Ammonia (nh3) is one of the most commonly produced chemicals because it is essential for biological processes and serves as a precursor to amino acid and nucleotide synthesis. Ammonia is present in the environment because it is produced by soil from bacterial processes and from the decomposition of inorganic matter including plants, animals and animal waste. However, nh3 monitoring is essential in industries and from farm ventilation systems to improve ambient air quality for humans and the general environment. Through nh3 monitoring, ammonia concentrations can be investigated and measures can be undertaken at reduction of emissions. It is also essential for industries to have general awareness and information on ammonia including emergency preparedness.

Chemical and physical properties of ammonia

  • At room temperature, ammonia is colorless with the slightly irritating pungent and suffocating odor. It is lighter than air with a density being 0.589 times than that of air. It can easily be liquefied due to the strong hydrogen bonding between molecules.
  • In its pure form, ammonia is known as anhydrous ammonia and is hydroscopic meaning it readily absorbs moisture
  • Ammonia has alkaline properties and is highly corrosive
  • Ammonia gas dissolves immediately in water to form ammonium hydroxide,  a caustic solution and a weak base
  • Ammonia gas can be easily compressed  and forms a clear liquid under pressure
  • Transport of ammonia is typically done as compressed liquid in steel containers
  • While ammonia is not flammable, containers of ammonia tend to explode when exposed to high heat

Human exposure to ammonia

Since ammonia is extensively used in industries for the production of fertilizer and refrigerants, for the purification of water supplies and the manufacture of plastics, explosives, textiles, pesticides and dyes, many workers can be exposed to ammonia from the inhalation of gas or vapors in the workplace. Industries using ammonia need nh3 monitoring to accurately assess the amount of ammonia concentration is a workplace that can occur due to accidental or deliberate release. Anhydrous ammonia gas is lighter than air and will rise and dissipate except in situations where there is presence of moisture or high relative humidity. The liquefied anhydrous ammonia forms vapors that are heavier than air and the vapors may spread to ground or into low-lying areas for possible human exposure.

Treatment for ammonia exposure

Ammonia is irritating and corrosive and exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can cause immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Inhalations of lower quantity of ammonia can induce coughing and nose and throat irritations. Contact with concentrated ammonia solution can cause skin burns or irritations or permanent eye damage. If ingested, there is no antidote for ammonia poisoning but the effects can be treated and the chances of recovery are high. Immediate decontamination of the skin and eyes with copious amounts of water should be immediate. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can be toxic but through nh3 monitoring, high concentrations of ammonia can be accurately detected and measures can be undertaken to stop the leak or release of the ammonia gas or liquid. 

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