Ammonia Fact Sheet (pdf version), September 2011
This fact sheet answers questions about Ammonia. For more information, call Oregon Hazardous Substance Incident Surveillance (HSIS) at 971-673-0977.
It is important to understand this information because ammonia is a potentially dangerous substance. The harmful effects of ammonia depend on several factors: your age, the amount and length of time of exposure, the exposure (you breathed it in or it got on your skin) and whether or not other chemicals are present.1
What is ammonia?
Ammonia is a colorless gas with a very distinct odor. It mixes with water but quickly turns back to a gas when exposed to air.
Where is ammonia found?
Small amounts of ammonia are found naturally in the soil, air, food and water. Ammonia is also made. Manufactured ammonia is used in household and industrial cleaners and in window cleaning products. Ammonia is used to make fertilizers for farm, lawn and plants. It is also used to help keep refrigerators cold and in making plastics, dyes, fabrics and pesticides.
How might I be exposed?
Most people will be exposed to low levels of naturally occurring ammonia in the soil, food and water. People can be exposed to higher levels of ammonia by:
- Using cleaning products that contain ammonia
- Working with fertilizers
- Living near farms that use ammonia-containing fertilizers
- Entering enclosed buildings where animals are kept
What will ammonia do to me?
No health problems have been found from contact with naturally-occurring low levels of ammonia. Breathing in high levels of ammonia in air can cause irritation to the nose, throat and lungs. In higher concentrations, lung damage may occur. Ammonia can also severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes. Contact with liquid ammonia can cause frostbite. Swallowing ammonia may cause nausea, vomiting and swelling of lips, mouth, and throat.
Children may be more vulnerable to ammonia.1
How can I protect myself?
In the event of a spill or release, follow instructions given by emergency responders and local authorities (i.e. shelter in place, evacuation, etc.). Store products containing ammonia out of reach of children. Follow precautions and instructions for handling the substance (i.e. wear proper clothing and eye protection). Open windows in areas where ammonia is being used. Avoid farm fields after ammonia-based fertilizers have been used.
In case of an emergency, contact your regional poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or 911 emergency services for help.
Note: effects of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact) to ammonia may be delayed.2
Inhalation: move to fresh air. Begin rescue breathing (using proper respiratory medical device) if breathing has stopped and CPR if heart has stopped. Get medical attention right away.
Skin contact: remove contaminated clothing. Rinse area for at least 30 minutes. Get medical attention right away.
Eye contact: rinse the whites of eyes with water for at least 30 minutes, lifting upper and lower lids. If possible, remove contact lenses while rinsing. Get medical attention right away.
Ingestion: do not make person vomit.3 Call Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or seek medical attention immediately.
Where can I find more information?
Oregon Hazardous Substances Incident Surveillance program
Other sources of information include:
- Local health department
- Oregon Poison Center: Phone 1-800-222-1222
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ToxFAQs™ for Ammonia (English and Spanish)
- New Jersey Department of Health, Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets for Ammonia (English and Spanish)
- California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Ammonia Fact Sheet
- U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Emergency Response Guide Book (English and Spanish)
This document was supported by funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) trust fund provided to the Oregon Health Authority under Cooperative Agreement #5U61/TS000130-02 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
1Medical Management Guidelines for Ammonia, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
2Emergency Response Guide Book, U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
3Oregon Poison Center, 2011