Ammonia is a chemical with a variety of uses. It's used in agriculture fertilizers and as a refrigerant for industrial cooling and freezer systems for food or beverage storage. Many households also use ammonia-based cleaning compounds. In household form, ammonia dangers are minimal. In an industrial setting, however, there is potential for exposure to harmful concentrations of ammonia liquids or gases due to leaks or spills. Spill responders must wear protective clothing to stay safe. Several factors dictate the type of protective clothing for ammonia spills, including spill quantity, location and exposure potential.
Hazards and Health Effects
Ammonia is made up of nitrogen and hydrogen. The resulting mixture is hazardous because it is corrosive. Health effects include injury to skin, eyes and lungs. Ammonia can be absorbed through the body by inhalation, skin and eye contact and by ingestion. In some cases, exposure can be severe enough to be fatal. However, ammonia is very odorous and can be detected in time for affected persons to seek help or protection. Qualified spill responders are aware of these dangers and suit up accordingly.
Protective Clothing for Ammonia Spills
During a spill, if there is potential for ammonia to come in contact with skin and eyes or to be inhaled or ingested, then gloves, goggles or face shields, body protection and respirators are required. According to the 2012 edition of the Emergency Response Guidebook, the response to certain ammonia spills requires a respirator and chemical protective clothing. Emergency response procedures must be in place and specify the level of personal protection required. It is the duty and responsibility of spill responders to know the specific requirements before taking action.
How to Select Protective Clothing
The goal of protective clothing is to provide a shield from harmful chemicals. Selecting the best protection requires knowing the chemical properties, such as flammability, corrosive potential and toxicity, as well as the exposure limits permitted by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. These properties are indicators of how health and safety is affected with exposure. You will select protective clothing based on these factors. For example, since ammonia is corrosive, butyl rubber gloves and boots and corrosion-resistant clothing provide protection against ammonia permeation. Additionally, because of potential damage to lungs, respiratory protection is needed in certain response situations.
Levels of Protective Clothing
OSHA provides guidelines for determining appropriate levels of protective clothing, ranging from Level A to Level D. Level A provides the highest degree of protection and is used in situations where hazardous chemicals are unknown or pose an immediate threat to life and health, and when the effects of a hazardous substance require it. Level A protection requires full face respiratory protection and chemical protective suits that totally encapsulate the body. Outer wear such as gloves and boots must also be chemical resistant. Level D protection requires the least protection, such as a regular work uniform.
Deb Dupree has been an active writer throughout her career in the corporate world and in public service since 1982. She has written numerous corporate and educational documents including project reports, procedures and employee training programs. She has a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee.