Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Ammonia and ammonium compounds

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > APPENDIX B: Common chemicals and materials > Ammonia and ammonium compounds


Ammonia and ammonium compounds come in liquid, gas, and solid forms. Pure ammonia is a gas, but if you’re working with cold ammonia, it will be in liquid form. Ammonia and ammonium compounds are used in the electronics, garment, and shoe-making industries. They are used in electroplating, to make rubber, as a solvent to make plastics, and in dyes and fabric finish treatments.

Containers of ammonia may explode when exposed to heat. Store ammonia in pressure-controlled, enclosed containers.

When any amount of ammonia touches any part of your body, rinse it off immediately with cool water for at least 15 minutes. See First Aid.

The charts include only some of the ammonia compounds that exist. See Learn about chemicals used in your factory and how to find information about other ammonia compounds. See the Index of chemical names to find alternative names for ammonia and ammonium compounds.

Prevent or reduce exposure:

  • Use ventilation systems that extract fumes and replace or dilute dirty air with clean air (see Chapter 17: Ventilation).
  • Enclose operations where possible.
  • Do not mix or pour ammonia or ammonium compounds by hand.
  • Wear gloves. Wear correct respirators that fit you. All protective clothing should be clean, available each day, put on before work, and never taken home with you (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).
  • Have an emergency plan that includes first aid treatment and protective equipment for spills, splashes, and accidental exposures. Keep necessary emergency supplies at the work site well stocked and accessible to workers.
  • Work areas where ammonia compounds are used, stored, and mixed need to be controlled for heat and monitored for concentration of fumes and vapors. They should also have alarms, fire extinguishers, and a fire emergency plan (see Chapter 11: Fire).


Ammonia and ammonium compounds


Ammonia (hydrogen nitride, Nitro-Sil) CAS No. 7664-41-7

fire or explosive





Ammonium chloride (ammonium muriate, sal ammonia) CAS No. 12125-02-9


Might harm reproductive health




Ammonium hydroxide (ammonia water, aqueous ammonia) CAS No. 1336-21-6





WHAT ARE THEY?
Ammonia is a colorless gas or liquid with a strong, irritating smell. It smells even at low amounts. Ammonium hydroxide is a colorless liquid mixture of ammonia and water. It has a strong smell. If you smell ammonium hydroxide, you are exposed to amounts that may harm you. Ammonium chloride is a solid white powder with no smell.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Ammonium compounds are used in electronics, shoes, and garment production. Ammonia is used in making silicon layers. Liquid ammonia is used in fabric treatment and in dyes. Ammonium hydroxide is used in the preparation of dyes and rubber. Ammonium chloride is used to make batteries and in electroplating.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They irritate and burn your skin. You may develop a skin rash, redness, and dryness. Your skin might start peeling, itching, and cracking. If liquid ammonia touches you, it will burn quickly, but the skin will feel cold and numb. See First Aid.

EYES

They irritate and burn your eyes. Contact with large amounts can lead to blindness. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The fumes irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, causing congestion, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. If you continue to be exposed, it can cause severe asthma attacks. Inhaling high amounts of fumes can create buildup of fluid in the lungs, called lung edema. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY

They can burn your mouth, throat, and stomach and cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See First Aid and seek medical attention.

WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

Ammonium compounds irritate your respiratory tract and can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma.

Ammonia and ammonium chloride can make your nose and lungs very sensitive and cause chronic asthma.

Ammonium chloride may affect your kidneys. It may damage a baby in the womb.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use elbow-length, butyl rubber or nitrile gloves, an apron, and eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a supplied-air respirator
SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Ammonium hydroxide is diluted and is a little safer than pure ammonia.



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