IFFCO gas leak: How dangerous is ammonia?

Source: The Indian Express

News: A major ammonia gas leakage at the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Limited(IFFCO) unit at Prayagraj has occurred.

Facts:

  • What is Ammonia? A tri-hydroid of nitrogen(NH3), ammonia is a building block for ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) that is used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertiliser.
  • Source of Ammonia: It is highly soluble in water, is found in soil, air, and water; it is naturally present in the body and secreted by the kidneys to neutralise excess acid.However, it is highly diluted when in the environment and does not affect the human body to a noticeable level.
  • Acceptable Limit: The acceptable maximum limit of ammonia in drinking water as per the Bureau of Indian Standards is 0.5 ppm.
  • Uses:
    • Ammonia is stored for industrial use in liquid form under high pressure or in gaseous form at low temperature.
    • Ammonia is critical in the manufacturing of fertilizers, and is one of the largest-volume synthetic chemicals produced in the world. More than 80% of ammonia made is consumed in the manufacturing of fertilizer and most of the remainder goes into the production of formaldehyde.
  • How is it harmful on Human Body?
    • Ammonia interacts immediately upon contact with moisture present in the skin, eyes, oral cavity, respiratory tract to form ammonium hydroxide which is very caustic and disrupts the cell membrane lipids ultimately leading to cellular destruction.
    • If Ammonia is inhaled in excess, the gas is toxic and affects the lungs with a possibility of causing chemical pneumonitis — inflammation of the lung caused by aspirating or inhaling irritants.
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