Anhydrous ammonia is one of the most commonly used fertilizers in agriculture. It is used as an efficient method of restoring nitrogen into the soil. It’s easy to apply and readily available.
However, it is also one of the most dangerous chemicals used in agriculture, requiring a great deal of caution and care in its use and handling. Due to its extremely low boiling point (anhydrous becomes a gas at -28 degrees F), anhydrous ammonia must be stored under high pressure. As a result all equipment required for its transport and application must be specially designed and well-maintained.
Inspection Is Key
Before any nurse or applicator tank is used, it should be inspected thoroughly for any defective equipment. Hoses are considered the weakest link in ammonia handling systems and should be checked carefully. Similarly all valves and couplers should be checked and tagged and taken out of service if found to be defective.
Other points of inspection include:
- Tires – check for proper inflation and tread
- Running gear – this includes the wagon frame tongue, anchor devices, wheel bearings, ball joints, and pins
- Warning lights – tanks should be equipped with turn signals, flashing warning lights, and red brake lights, all of which should be in proper working condition
- Safety signage – tanks should display the proper safety markings, including a slow-moving vehicle sign, the words Anhydrous Ammonia on both sides and rear of the tank, Inhalation Hazard on both sides of the tank, and a Department of Transportation placard number 1005 sign on front, back and sides
- Water tanks – each anhydrous tank should be equipped with emergency first aid water tanks that have been filled with clean water for treatment in the event the chemical comes into contact with your skin
Double Down and Cover Up
Any physical contact with the chemical can result in severe injuries or even death. Because anhydrous ammonia is a hygroscopic chemical, it wants to bond with water from the nearest source. If it comes into contact with your skin or eyes, it will draw all the moisture out of those tissues, resulting in rapid dehydration, severe burns, and frostbite. If inhaled, anhydrous can cause respiratory failure.
Because of this it’s important to have the appropriate personal protective equipment:
- Ventless, tight-fitting goggles or full-face shield
- Loose rubber gloves with long cuffs that can be rolled up to catch any liquid ammonia that drips down your arm
- A heavy, long-sleeved shirt
- Heavy denim pants or coveralls
- Contact lenses should not be worn, as ammonia can become trapped between the lenses and your eye, causing significant damage before the lenses can be removed
Anhydrous ammonia can be one of the more dangerous chemicals used in your ag operation. That’s why it’s important to take the time and care to ensure your equipment is in perfect working condition and you wear the right protective equipment. By following these procedures, you can reduce your risk of serious injury or death .