Anhydrous ammonia safety
Anhydrous ammonia is a commonly-used nitrogen crop fertilizer in our area and does wonders for the soil. However, it has dangers that require farmers to practice caution when applying the chemical.
Every year, a number of farmers become injured from exposure to anhydrous ammonia, which can quickly cause burns, damage to the eyes, and respiratory problems.
This exposure can happen suddenly and is almost always unexpected, including in these everyday situations:
During the transfer from the nurse tank to the applicator. Anhydrous ammonia can escape from the transfer hose or valves that connect the hose to the tank or applicator.
When equipment fails. Malfunctions of valves, the quick coupler that connects the nurse tank to the toolbar, and gauges can cause dangerous situations that could spray anhydrous ammonia in any direction with force greater than that of a fire hydrant. Cracked or damaged hoses can also cause issues.
During transportation or application in the field. A loose or broken hitch can cause the hose to pull apart and leak anhydrous ammonia. This can happen if a hitch pin comes loose or something breaks and there is no safety chain keeping the tank hooked to the towing vehicle.
Anhydrous ammonia is a hygroscopic compound which seeks water from the nearest source, including the human body. This puts the eyes, lungs, and skin at the greatest risk of injury because they have high moisture content.
Most exposure deaths result from a direct blast to the face, which causes severe damage to the throat and lungs. When a person inhales large amounts of anhydrous ammonia, their throat swells and they suffocate. Liquid or vapor exposure can also cause blindness or burns similar to, but more severe than, those caused by dry ice.
Here are some tips for how you can reduce your risk of exposure and reduce injuries:
Always keep at least five gallons of clean water in your supply tank to flush the affected area, dilute the reactant, and carry a small squeeze bottle. (Ideally, keep another five gallons on your tractor.)
Understand first aid treatment and practice what you would do in an emergency.
Wear ventless goggles, rubber gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt when working with anhydrous ammonia.
Regularly inspect equipment and replace worn hoses and valves.
Never allow bystanders in the area where anhydrous ammonia is being transferred or applied.
Review instructions before coupling and uncoupling lines.
When it comes to working with anhydrous ammonia, safety must be a top priority. Be smart — stay safe!
*Some of the above material is taken from Safe Farm, an extension and outreach of Iowa State University.