Why Is Anhydrous Ammonia So Dangerous?

Anhydrous ammonia and ammonium hydroxide are two types of ammonia commonly used in the industry.  The “anhydrous” type, which means, “without water.”  (Ammonium hydroxide is formed when ammonia gas is dissolved in water) burns skin, eyes, and lungs.  It may also result in frostbite, since its boiling point is -28ºF.  Ammonia is hygroscopic, which means it has a high affinity for water, and migrates to moist areas like the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and moist skin. Released anhydrous ammonia will rapidly absorb moisture from air and form a dense, visible white cloud.  This dense cloud tends to travel along the ground on a cool day.  Do not enter a visible cloud of ammonia.  It will damage your lungs!

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If there is no visible cloud, you can still detect an ammonia release by its pungent odor when it is present in the concentration of 5 to 50 parts per million by volume (ppm*).  Exposure to anhydrous ammonia between 5 and 50 ppm can cause headaches, loss of the sense of smell, nausea, and vomiting.  Concentrations above 50 ppm result in irritation to the nose, mouth, and throat causing coughing and wheezing.  Concentrations of 300 to 500 ppm are immediately dangerous to life.  People will generally leave the area due to lung irritation, coughing, and shortness of breath. Higher exposures can cause fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), and severe shortness of breath, which may possibly lead to death.

Ammonia is also flammable and explosive at the right concentrations, which is more likely to happen when released in a confined space, such as inside a building.  It can be ignited by something as common as the electric flash from a switch.

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The best first aid is to prevent the injury in the first place.  Preventing accidents not only keeps employees healthier and more productive, it saves a lot of wasted time and money from having to repair equipment, pay for injured employees’ medical expenses, lost product, and having to clean up the mess. 


Is your refrigeration system up to date?  Are the system relief valves up to date?  Have you done maintenance on your equipment per the manufacturer’s recommendation?  Is the system ready for the summer and the issues hot weather can bring? Will you be ready to make it through the summer months without having to shut down for regular maintenance?

Let us help you to make sure your system is at top performance levels regardless of the season. Our service and parts departments are ready to serve all your refrigeration needs with quick responses and competitive rates.