Engineers within the fertilizer industry are all too aware of the toxic and combustible nature of ammonia. In 2013, a catastrophic nitrate explosion occurred in a fertilizer storage plant in the West Texas, USA, which took 15 lives through an explosive force of 7.5-10 tonnes of TNT. Improper handling and monitoring of ammonia can be a costly mistake.
Ammonia is a colorless and pungent smelling gas and is found naturally in trace amounts. However, ammonia is also lighter than air, and this means that it can form clouds and travel beyond the perimeters of a fertilizer plant if there is an accidental release. The problems can be further exacerbated if water is mixed in with ammonia clouds, because the cloud remains lower to the ground, posing a risk to the employees inside a plant.
Ammonia is used to produce fertilizers. It also used in pharmaceuticals, as a refrigerant in food processing operations and as cleaning agents. Industrial grade ammonia is usually supplied as anhydrous ammonia in tanks or as a liquid form. It is the anhydrous form that is used for fertilizers.
Read more: Detecting Ammonia in Fertilizer