What is Ammonia?
Ammonia exists naturally in humans and the environment and is essential for a number of biological processes. In the environment, ammonia is produced via bacterial processes in soil and it’s also produced naturally as part of the decomposition process for organic matter. Ammonia is also, without a doubt, one of the most commonly produced and most commonly implemented chemicals in the United States. It is heavily used in commerce and industry. In large amounts, ammonia is also potentially very toxic to humans through direct exposure or inhalation.
At room temperature, ammonia is a colorless gas with a pungent odor that can be very irritating to the eyes, nose and skin. It can be easily compressed to form a clear liquid, which is shipped in steel containers. Ammonia is usually not flammable, although high heat can cause ammonia to explode. It dissolves easily in water, to become ammonium hydroxide, which is very caustic, and by itself, it can be a very corrosive substance.
What is Ammonia Used For?
Roughly 80% of all industrially produced ammonia is used in the agricultural industry as a fertilizer. Some of the other uses of the chemical include use as a refrigerant and use in the water purification process. It is also used as an integral part of the manufacturing process for a number of industries, including explosives, pesticides, dyes, plastics and even in the production of other chemicals. Ammonia is also commonly found in many cleaning solutions found around the home and industrial workplaces. While the ammonia concentrations are relatively low for household cleaners, in the 5-10% concentration range, the ammonia solutions used for industrial cleaning can include concentrations of 25% or higher and are corrosive, which makes them potentially far more hazardous to workers who use them.
What Types of Injuries Are Caused by Ammonia?
Most often, those who are exposed to ammonia breathe it in, either as a gas or through vapors emanating from an ammonia compound. The chemical tends to immediately interact with the moisture in the body, which means it can especially irritate and injure the skin, eyes, mouth, or even the lungs. Contact with the moisture in your body tends to form ammonium hydroxide, which can result in severe irritation of the nose and throat. While ammonia has a strong odor, prolonged exposure can make a person become used to it, and reduce awareness of its presence.
Even relatively low levels of ammonia can cause skin or eye irritation, but higher concentrations could cause serious injury and burns. Concentrated ammonia solutions, like industrial cleaners, can cause severe burning of the skin, or cause permanent eye damage, up to and including blindness. In some cases, the extent of the eye injury may not be known for a week or more. Coming in contact with liquefied ammonia also has the potential to cause an injury that is similar to frostbite.
While ammonia is very toxic on the short term, the effects of ammonia poisoning can be treated, mostly through flushing the skin and eyes with lots of water. If the ammonia ends up in the respiratory system, medical personnel can usually treat it, and most people will eventually recover if they are treated immediately.
Talk to a Lawyer to Discuss Your Legal Options
If you or a loved one are injured or sickened by exposure to ammonia gas or vapor, get medical help immediately. Then contact the San Antonio personal injury lawyer at Hill Law Firm to discuss your legal options and to protect your rights.