What is Ammonia?
Ammonia is colourless gas that is produced naturally in the human body and environmentally – in water, soil and air. Ammonia is used in a wide variety of ways, mainly within industry and commerce.
What Does Ammonia Smell Like?
Ammonia has a very distinct smell, often described as a pungent odour, similar to sweat or cat urine. It can also smell like strong, briny cheeses as cheese can even have a small amount of ammonia in them as a natural product of the cheese ageing process.
Ammonia in Fertilizer
Around 90% of ammonia can be found within fertilizer – farmers use it to keep their soils productive and to prevent the food crops from naturally killing off the soil nutrients. Fertilizers also can help increase zinc, selenium and boron levels within food crops.
Ammonia in Household Cleaning Products
Ammonia can also be used on its own or as an ingredient in many household cleaning products and helps to clean a variety of surfaces such as sinks, toilets, tubs and kitchen countertops/tiles. It is effective for breaking down household grime or stains from cooking grease and wine stains. It is most commonly used in glass cleaning solutions due to it evaporating quickly which in turn helps avoid streaking when cleaning.
Ammonia in Industrial / Manufacturing Uses
Another use for ammonia is within refrigerant gas and in air-conditioning equipment, this is due to the fact that it can absorb substantial amounts of heat from its surroundings.
It can be used to purify water supplies and also as a building block in the production of many products including dyes, pesticides, plastics, explosives and fabrics.
It is also frequently used within wastewater treatment, cold storage, pulp and paper, rubber and within beverage industries as a stabilizer, neutralizer and a source of nitrogen. It also is used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.
Is Ammonia Exposure Bad For my Health?
Although no negative health effects have been found with the typical amounts of ammonia, exposure to high levels of ammonia in the air might be irritating to a person’s skin, eyes, throat and lungs and can cause coughing and burns. It may be a natural refrigerant, but Ammonia is highly toxic and flammable so it is important that you make sure your refrigeration systems are safe.
How might I be exposed to Ammonia?
Ammonia occurs naturally in the environment so it is perfectly normal for people to be exposed to low levels, however it is possible for someone to be exposed to a higher level of ammonia when living near or on farmland that uses fertilizer for crops. It is also possible to be exposed to a higher level of ammonia when spending a large amount of time within an enclosed area with a lot of animals or when using a cleaning product containing ammonia.
If you are using products that contain ammonia or are exposed to ammonia at work or at home, make sure you remain in a well-ventilated area and avoid prolonged exposure if possible. As for working with any chemicals, best to be on the safe side, know the risk and use products with caution.