Purdue University
Cooperative Extension Service
West Lafayette, IN 47907

Using Anhydrous Ammonia Safely

F. R. Willsey
Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Engineering

Anhydrous ammonia is widely used as a nitrogen fertilizer by farmers. It has the highest available nitrogen content of any fertilizer and is very effective for increasing yields.

Anhydrous ammonia can be dangerous to use. An accident can result in serious injury, blindness or even death. It must be stored and handled properly.

Understand the Dangers

Anhydrous means "without water." Anhydrous ammonia is dry or pure undiluted ammonia. At ordinary temperatures, it is a colorless gas, but under pressure it changes into a liquid. Agricultural ammonia is transported, stored and handled in pressurized tanks.

Anhydrous ammonia is a strong alkali that can cause painful skin burns. Because of its low boiling point, anhydrous ammonia can burn by freezing as well as by caustic action. Even mild exposure can cause irritation to tissues of the eyes, nose and lungs. Prolonged breathing can cause suffocation. However, the water-absorbing nature of ammonia causes the greatest injury, especially to the eyes. Permanent damage can result.

Handling It Safely

Anhydrous ammonia can be used as safely as any other gas or liquid that is handled under pressure. But you must be alert to prevent accidents.

One good thing about ammonia is that its sharp, irritating odor is an excellent warning. You'll know right away when it is around.

Most accidents happen when ammonia is being moved from one tank to another. A major cause of accidents is the accidental opening of hose-end valves and quick-couplers. Defective hoses also allow ammonia to escape without warning.

To handle anhydrous ammonia safely, there are five important things to remember:


Filling The Applicator Tank

Applicator tanks may be filled either by the "bleed" method or by use of a pump or compressor. These general safety rules apply to either method:


In Case of an Accident

Work fast! Immediate action is important when anhydrous ammonia is involved in an accident. Water is the best and only emergency first aid treatment for ammonia burns. Flush or irrigate the injured area with lots of water for at least 15 minutes before going for professional medical help.

Eyes doused with ammonia will close involuntarily. They must be forced open so that the water can flush the entire eye surface and inner lining of the eyelids. If you are wearing contact lenses while working with ammonia, be sure to remove them immediately before you begin the flushing process.

Immediately after first aid with water, get the burn victim to a doctor.

Do not apply salves, ointments or oils to ammonia burns. They will cause deeper burns. Let a doctor decide on what medical treatment to use.

If a person is overcome by ammonia fumes and stops breathing, get him to fresh air and give artificial respiration.


Keep in mind that federal standards require that you carry at least 5 gallons of water on the tank transporting vehicles at all times. Make this a habit. Label your container to read "Water--Do Not Drink--For Washing Only." Change the water daily, as it may absorb ammonia fumes.

If You Are Under 16...

Unless you are working on your parent's or guardian's farm, you are not allowed to handle, transport or transfer anhydrous ammonia under the terms of a federal child labor law.

For further information on this subject, contact. Dr. William Field, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering,

RR 4/85

Cooperative Extension work in Agriculture and Home Economics. state of Indiana. Purdue University and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. H. A. Wadsworth. Director, west Lafayette, IN. Issued in furtherance of the acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. The Cooperative Extension Service of Purdue University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity institution.