Anhydrous Ammonia Safety

Anhydrous ammonia is a nitrogen crop fertilizer that does wonders in the soil, but must be applied with the utmost caution. The chemical takes up water from the nearest source, including the human body – especially the eyes, lungs, and skin because of their high moisture content.

Chuck Schwab is an Extension safety specialist at Iowa State University. He says when working with anhydrous ammonia, wear ventless goggles and rubber gloves. Have a five-gallon bucket of water on the tank as well as a personal water supply.  

"By having this extra water, you’re providing it, and so it’s not burning into the skin or into your tissues, so it’s diluting the reactant," says Schwab. "And so really, if there is any exposure to an anhydrous ammonia gas cloud, the best thing to do is three things: The first one is to flush with water. The second is to flush with more water, and the third is to flush with even more water."

If you find yourself in a pickle without water, Schwab says any liquid such as orange juice, cold coffee, anything will help until you can get to water and first aid.

Keep in mind that even despite precautions, equipment can fail.

"When you see a cloud around an anhydrous tank, or you know, injection knives, the best thing to do is not to go near it. Period. Because you don’t know which way the wind’s going to blow, if it changes, then the cloud could come back to you," says Schwab. "And it doesn’t take much to inhale and create that constriction that stops you from breathing."