With Indiana's corn  crop ahead of schedule this planting season, farmers soon will begin sidedressing anhydrous ammonia. With that comes a need for special attention to safety, says Bill Field, Purdue University  farm safety specialist.
Anhydrous ammonia releases, such as those caused by a farmer accidentally dousing himself with the chemical or transportation accidents, can leave those sprayed with severe burns. But there are precautions that can be taken.
Because anhydrous ammonia is attracted to water, people sprayed with it can suffer debilitating eye injuries. To prevent eye injuries, farmers need to wear goggles when handling anhydrous ammonia.
"There is nothing more devastating to a farmer than to lose sight, and that is what tends to happen – either farmers lose their sight immediately and it is irreparable, or low doses of ammonia can eventually lead to glaucoma or permanent eye damage over time," Field says. "If an exposure involves the eyes, we recommend a minimum of 45 minutes constant flushing with water and seeking immediate medical attention."
In addition to eye burns, moist areas of the body, such as the groin or armpits, tend to be the most susceptible. If a farmer is doused with anhydrous ammonia, the primary first-aid response is extensive flushing with water.
For that reason, all tanks are equipped with 5 gal. of flushing water, and chemical dealers keep water troughs on the premises in case of emergency.
"Most incidents take place around the connectors where the hose connects to the applicator or where farmers are filling or connecting to a tool bar," Field says. "So whenever farmers are handling the ammonia, connecting and disconnecting from applicator tools, it is extremely important they wear eye protection and have an adequate supply of water on hand."
Another precaution farmers can take is to transport anhydrous ammonia as safely as possible. Field says this means hauling only one full tank at a time and only doubling up if tanks are empty. It also means those hauling tanks should be trained to do so because tanks can weigh up to twice what the typical pickup truck weighs, and stopping the vehicle requires a much longer distance than normal.
He also recommended that the towing vehicle be in good condition and have properly functioning brakes and that farmers be careful about what times of day they're hauling the chemical.
"Most anhydrous ammonia tanks are clearly identified with a slow-moving vehicle emblem on the back, but many are not equipped to be transported at night," Field says. "Transporting these vehicles after dark requires some special adaptations including lighting, brake lighting and signal lighting. But, probably the better idea is to transport the tanks during the day time, especially since it is a hazardous material."