Beware the dangers of anhydrous ammonia
By ADAM SHEPARD
With another month all but in the rear-view mirror with little to no outside work being accomplished it was nice to see the floaters out this morning making the 28 percent application to local wheat fields. The application window was short with the sun coming out the ground started to get greasy shortly before lunch. At the county farm we were fortunate enough to get the nitrogen on today so hopefully the weather will warm up some and the wheat will take off. As I make my rounds throughout the county I’ve noticed numerous shops being filled with planters, ammonia applicators, and field cultivators. While all of the equipment we deal with is full of potential dangers there is one product some of us use that requires some special attention and precautions.
Anhydrous Ammonia tanks and applicators will soon be rolling once the soil dries and warms up. Every year as we hook to the first tank we have to remind ourselves as to the danger and hazards associated with using this source of nitrogen. With ammonia being one of those products which we use one time a year then forget about it until the next spring we tend to forget the potential danger and amount of respect we should give this product. With ammonia application on everyone’s mind I felt this a necessary time to review some information about ammonia that will help applicators and the general community understand the risks associated with this product.
Anhydrous Ammonia is transported in liquid form under pressure so the tanks and wagons we see on the road are manufactured to handle pressure and reduce the risk of ruptures or breaks. When the ammonia is introduced into the air it vaporizes and moves through the atmosphere. Ammonia absorbs moisture so the real hazard becomes when one is exposed to ammonia it will absorb moisture from the body and cause severe burns to any part of the body in which it contacts. This is not limited to exterior exposure, the ammonia can also cause severe burns to interior organs and vital body structures such as lungs and windpipes can become severely burned and can also lead to death. Ammonia gives off a distinct odor when exposed to the air which can make breathing difficult for those exposed. The odor is often strong enough to burn your eyes and cause a loss of breath.
While most of the danger associated with ammonia comes during the filling of the tank and making the application itself we also hear of accidents while the product is being transported to the field. When you see the tanks being moved on the road make sure and give them plenty of room and assure clear distance when passing the vehicles. Applicators should be serviced and made sure all hoses, connections, and valves are in good working order and pressure tested before taken to the field if possible.
More information about ammonia safety can be found at: http://www.extension.org/pages/63196/anhydrous-ammonia-safety.
(Adam Shepard is Ohio State University Extension Educator, Fayette County.)