Ammonia is a colorless gas with a pungent odor that has a number of occupational uses, such as a refrigerant; cleaning and bleaching agent; or additive in fertilizers, plastics and pharmaceuticals. Although exposure in typical environmental concentrations is not considered hazardous, exposure to high concentrations can cause severe burns of the skin, eyes, throat and lungs, potentially leading to death.
Workers exposed to high levels of ammonia should seek medical attention immediately, according to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Until help arrives, the agency suggests taking the following steps:
- Ammonia in the eyes: Irrigate the eyes immediately with large amounts of water, occasionally lifting the upper and lower eyelids.
- Ammonia on the skin: If irritation occurs, gently blot or brush away any excess chemicals and flush contaminated skin with water. If the chemicals penetrate clothing, promptly remove clothing and flush the skin with water.
- Ammonia in the respiratory system: If a worker breathes large amounts of ammonia, move him or her to fresh air immediately. If the worker has stopped breathing, administer artificial respiration. Keep the worker warm and at rest while waiting for medical assistance.