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You can’t be too safe around ammonia

Jim Sweigart doesn’t even demonstrate the qualities of anhydrous ammonia without full safety gear. He certainly wouldn’t go to the field without it.

Sweigart, risk management specialist with Risk Management of East Central Indiana, Muncie, recently demonstrated to onlookers at a safety meeting that anhydrous ammonia is soluble in water. At the same time, he emphasized that the substance seeks water wherever it can find it. “Anhydrous” means without water. Anhydrous ammonia is one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen.

Key Points

The vapor of anhydrous ammonia is lighter than air.

Wear proper protective gear to handle exposure.

Flush any area hit by anhydrous ammonia with water.

Here are facts you should know:

Anhydrous ammonia is not a poison, but it is a strong corrosive material.

Pure anhydrous ammonia is colorless and lighter than air.

It’s stored and transported under pressure, because it boils at minus 28 degrees F.

When released into the atmosphere, it expands 850 times its liquid volume.

As temperatures rise, pressure increases.

Prevent injuries

The goal of safety protective equipment is to help you avoid eye contact and skin contact, Sweigart says. A preventive maintenance program helps. When tanks leave a dealership, they must contain a full reservoir of water on the side.

“Water is the only first aid treatment for exposure to anhydrous ammonia,” Sweigart says. “Flush the affected area for at least 15 minutes. Then seek medical attention.”

Don’t apply salves, oils or ointments on an anhydrous burn during the first 24 hours, he emphasizes. The key is to wear protective gear and follow proper procedures. But if contact should occur, know how to react immediately.

A shattered rose is hard to forget

Normally, my ag class of high school juniors was chatty. Soon after I flipped the switch on the old green movie projector, and film started rolling from one big reel to the next, they grew silent. I knew showing them this movie was worth it. It was an older movie about the dangers of anhydrous ammonia.

I still remember the deep-voiced, serious commentator freezing a fresh rose with anhydrous ammonia, then shattering it on a table. Pieces went everywhere. And as the screen dimmed and became blurry to mimic what you would see if your eyes took a shot of anhydrous ammonia and you didn’t flush them with water in time, even the most disinterested students were glued to the screen.

That was 1979. But the demonstrations work as well today as they did then. And if abused or handled carelessly, anhydrous ammonia is still as dangerous today as it ever was.


Seeing is believing: Jim Sweigart demonstrates that anhydrous ammonia coming out of a small pressurized tank dissolves in water. Note vapor escaping as a gas.


No longer shiny: This piece was once shiny. Now it shows the effects of exposure to anhydrous ammonia.

This article published in the January, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.