The effects of leaking ammonia refrigerant

Updated November 21, 2016

Ammonia is a colourless gas and has a strong, sharp smell. Ammonia is sometimes used as a refrigerant in meatpacking or food processing plants as a cheaper and greener alternative to traditional refrigeration. Ammonia is poisonous at higher concentrations, and refrigerant leaks can be highly dangerous.

Respiratory System

Inhaling ammonia gas will cause an immediate burning sensation in the respiratory tract and heavy coughing. Severe exposure can lead to serious complications, such as pulmonary oedema or chronic bronchitis.

Nose and Throat

Ammonia gases cause the nose and throat to experience a burning sensation. The nasal passages and throat may swell after inhalation.

Skin and Eyes

Eyes usually water upon exposure to ammonia fumes. Contact lenses can trap ammonia against the eyes, increasing the irritation. In severe cases, permanent eye damage or blindness is possible. When the skin is exposed to ammonia refrigerant, it could cause frostbite-like burns. Milder cases may only experience numbness or itching on affected areas.

Other Effects

Ammonia is known to eventually dull the sense of smell, so one should not rely on smell alone to monitor ammonia leaks. Also, ammonia leaks can cause nausea after exposure.

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