Health Effects of Ammonia
What is ammonia?
Ammonia is one of the most widely produced chemicals in the United States. In pure form, it is known as anhydrous ammonia. Ammonia is also produced in the human body and is commonly found in nature. It is essential in the body as a building block or making proteins and other complex molecules. In nature, ammonia occurs in soil from bacterial processes. It is also produced when plants, and animal wastes decay.
What are the properties of ammonia?
Ammonia is a colorless highly irritating gas with a sharp suffocating odor. It dissolves easily in water to form ammonium hydroxide solution which can cause irritation and burns. Ammonia gas is easily compressed and forms a clear, colorless liquid under pressure. It is usually shipped as a compressed liquid in steel cylinders. Ammonia is not highly flammable, but containers of ammonia may explode when exposed to high heat.
How does ammonia act in the body?
When ammonia enters the body as a result of breathing, swallowing or skin contact, it reacts with water to produce ammonium hydroxide. This chemical is very corrosive and damages cells in the body on contact.
What are the specific signs and symptoms of ammonia poisoning?
Ammonia is corrosive. The severity of health effects depends on the route of exposure, the dose and the duration of exposure. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air causes immediate burning of the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract and can result in blindness, lung damage or death. Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation.
How is ammonia poisoning treated?
To reduce the effects from exposure to ammonia, it is important to wash eyes and skin as quickly as possible with large amounts of water. There is no antidote for ammonia poisoning, but ammonia's effects can be treated, and most victims recover. People who experience serious signs and symptoms (such as severe or constant coughing, or burns in the throat) may need hospital care.
The EPA's Top Ten cleaning Ingredients To Avoid
1. Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (APEs): common in detergents and disinfectants and are suspected hormone disruptors.
2. Ammonia: poisonous when swallowed, extremely irritating to respiratory passages when inhaled and can burn the skin on contact.
3. Indiscriminate use of antibacterial cleaners containing Triclosan may be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs.
4. Butyl Cellosolve (aka butyl glycol, ethylene glycol monobutyl): poisonous when swallowed and a lung-tissue irritant.
5. Chlorine Bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite): an all-purpose whitening agent, can irritate the lungs and eyes and in waterways can become toxic.
6. Diethanolamine (DEA): can combine with nitrosomes (often-undisclosed preservatives) to produce carcinogenic nitrosamines that penetrate skin.
7. Fragrances frequently contain Phthalates, chemicals linked to reproductive abnormalities and liver cancer in lab animals and to asthma in children.
8. Phosphates: soften water for detergents but contribute to algae blooms in our waterways, which can kill off fish populations.
9. Sodium Hydroxide: found in drain, metal and oven cleaners, is extremely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, and can burn those tissues on contact.
10. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: a common sudsing agent, can penetrate the skin and cause contact dermatitis.