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Morning Sun
  • NEWS IN AGRICULTURE: Use caution around anhydrous ammonia

  • Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is a common farm chemical that can be uncommonly dangerous. It should always be handled with the utmost caution and attention to safety.  I know that a lot of anhydrous has already been put down, but I’m sure there are still more acres to be covered as spring - and corn and milo planting season - draws closer.

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  • Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is a common farm chemical that can be uncommonly dangerous. It should always be handled with the utmost caution and attention to safety.  I know that a lot of anhydrous has already been put down, but I’m sure there are still more acres to be covered as spring - and corn and milo planting season - draws closer.
    Anhydrous ammonia is an excellent nitrogen source, but can also be a dangerous one and must be handled carefully and treated with respect.  This week, we’ll talk a little bit about handling this fertilizer safely.
    Anhydrous is a caustic alkali, and acts like a strong lye.  It also has a very low boiling point (-28 degrees F) and can ‘burn’ if it touches your skin.
    Anhydrous ammonia is “hygroscopic” – which means it seeks water.  It doesn’t matter whether that water is in the soil or your skin.   When NH3 contacts skin, it penetrates further and further because the human body is more than 90 percent water. As it penetrates, anhydrous sucks the moisture from body cells and destroys tissue.
    Anhydrous ammonia burns are harder to treat than fire or acid burns, which tend to seal off the skin wound. Anhydrous burns destroy tissue quickly and enlarge the wound as they penetrate the body.  The eyes are especially vulnerable to anhydrous damage. If no water is available to flush the eyes after contact with anhydrous, the result may be permanent blindness.
    Non-vented goggles with fog-proof lenses offer the best eye protection when handling NH3; they often cost less than $10. Goggles and a visor provide even better protection.
    Eyeglasses offer no protection at all, and contact lenses should never be worn around anhydrous.
    Farmers should always carry fresh water to the field when handling anhydrous.  Water is the only effective first aid for anhydrous burns.  It’s wise to carry a 5-gallon water tank on the tractor and one on the NH3 nurse tanks. Then, if there is an anhydrous ammonia leak in the field, you will be able to get to some water no matter which way the wind is blowing.
    It’s also a good idea to carry a small squeeze bottle of water in your pocket, in case you cannot get to the larger water containers immediately.  Don’t use your emergency water for washing, drinking or cooling off.  To prevent permanent eye damage from anhydrous ammonia, you must start flushing the eyes with water within five to 10 seconds of exposure. 
    You will need enough water to flush the entire eye and inner lining of the eyelid for at least 15 minutes.
    Another way to flush the eyes is to dunk your head below water in a bucket of clean water.  Force yourself to hold your eyelids open under water or rapidly blink and move your eyes around.  If you don’t have any water you can use coffee or tea if necessary, because they are mostly water. Then, get to a doctor as soon as possible.
    Page 2 of 2 - You also should protect your hands and arms when working with anhydrous.  Always wear a long-sleeved shirt and lined, rubber NH3 gloves.
    If your clothes become saturated by liquid anhydrous ammonia, leave them on and get under a shower or into a stock tank or pond immediately.   Don’t try to remove the clothing until it is unfrozen. If you do, some skin will come with it.
    Do not use ointment or salves on an anhydrous ammonia burn--they seal the ammonia into the flesh and cause more harm. The only effective first aid for NH3 burns is fresh water and lots of it.
    Anhydrous ammonia can be a very cost effective source of nitrogen for growing our crops.  But it is dangerous and deserves our caution and respect.  Be careful, use caution and never take shortcuts when handling anhydrous ammonia.  People don’t generally make big mistakes when working with anhydrous ammonia.  They make little ones.  But with anhydrous, even the tiniest oversight can have drastic consequences.  BE CAREFUL!!!
    For more information feel free to contact Wildcat Extension District agent Scott Gordon in Independence by calling (620) 331- 2690 or by email at sgordon@ksu.edu.  You may also contact Keith Martin in Altamont - (620) 784-5337, rkmartin@ksu.edu; or Josh Coltrain in Girard - 620-724-8233, jcoltrain@ksu.edu. We also offer programs in Family Consumer Science, 4-H and Youth, and horticulture. Program information and additional contacts can be found on our website www.wildcatdistrict.ksu.edu.

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