Ammonia (chemical symbol NH3) is a chemical amalgam comprising single nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms bonded firmly. Ammonia is also an alkaline substance having a potent smell and may be found in the form of a liquid as well as a gas. Several consumer as well as chemical products enclose ammonia, especially several products that are employed in the form of fertilizers or for cleaning stain. This is an unsafe substance and even coming in contact with or inhaling low concentrations of ammonia may not only result in a burning sensation and unconsciousness, but also lead to death. Therefore, it is advisable that you exercise adequate precautions while dealing with ammonia.
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When you are handling ammonia, you need to adopt additional precaution to ensure that you don't inhale the substance or it does not come in contact with your skin. It is essential to wear protective clothes as well as tough gloves while handling this chemical. In addition, you should take necessary safety measures to protect your eyes from unintended splashing of the substance into the eyes. In case you are using any domestic product that contains ammonia, you should ensure that there is appropriate ventilation, for instance, open the windows and/ or switch fans on before you use those products. This will help you to ensure that your home does not allow ammonia vapors to accumulate.
The atmosphere contains trace amounts of ammonia, which is produced due to the decaying process (putrefaction) of animal as well as vegetable matter containing nitrogen. In addition, rain water also encloses small amounts of ammonia and different salts of ammonia. Ammonium salts like ammonium sulfate and ammonium chloride (also called sal-ammoniac) are generally found in places where volcanoes exist. Ammonium bicarbonate crystals have been discovered in South America's Patagonian guano. It may be noted that even our kidneys release ammonia with a view to counterbalance the presence of surplus acid in the body. Besides, many fertile soils as well as seawater across the globe have been also found to contain different ammonium salts. All substances that contain ammonia or comparable chemicals are known as ammoniacal. While the planets Jupiter and Pluto have substantial ammonia, this chemical compound is also found in little quantities on Uranus.
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The chemical compound ammonia can be easily identified owing to its strong pungent odor and it forms the basic element of all things living. Since this compound is a binding of a solitary nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms, it works in the form of a vital carrier for nitrogen. In terms of weight, nitrogen happens to be the fourth most plentiful element found in all living beings and it comprises roughly 2.5 per cent of their body mass. While all living organisms require nitrogen to survive, just a few microorganisms have the ability to fix the plentiful nitrogen (N2) present in the atmosphere into a stable (denoting non-evaporating and non-gaseous) form of the element that functions in the environment of the biochemistry of our body. In addition, nitrogen is also an essential constituent in synthesizing amino acids that form the entire proteins present in our body.
Besides being a fundamental element necessary for life, nitrogen is also used for several industrial purposes - making nitrogen the most amalgamated among all inorganic chemicals. Most importantly, ammonia is used in the preparation of nitric acid, a constituent in explosives as well as fertilizers. Commercial or large-scale preparation of ammonia is done through the Haber process, a process utilized by industries and which involves fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere applying extreme pressures and temperature.
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Whenever any organic substance decomposes, it leads to the formation of ammonia in little amounts. This is the main reason why ammonia is naturally present in the atmosphere. However, nearly all the ammonia that is used commercially is actually produced through synthesis by means of forcibly binding hydrogen and nitrogen atoms. Subsequently, the gas is put under extreme pressure to transform it into a liquid and distribute it to the manufacturing units.
In its gaseous form, ammonia is lighter compared to the air and, therefore, unlike other hazardous gasses like propane, ammonia does not accumulate indoors. While ammonia has an overpowering, distinguishing smell, this gas is clear and cannot be ignited easily unless it is in a very concentrated form. This is the primary reason why compared to other chemical substances that are used at home, ammonia is safe, as nearly all people can distinguish it by its pungent smell and take the necessary safety precautions before handling it. Besides, its smell will prompt people not to touch or smell it.
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As ammonia can easily be mixed with water to form a solution, it is widely used in several products meant for cleaning, such oven cleaning foams, window sprays, wax removers, toilet bowl cleaners, domestic cleaners and other similar products which enclose anything between 5 to 10 per cent ammonia. You should know that you should never mix certain type of cleaners, as the products may be very harmful, for instance, blending ammonia and bleach produces an extremely hazardous gas known as chloramine. You should be careful not to inhale this gas.
In fact, commercially available cleaners, whose ammonia content is usually as much as 25 to 30 per cent, are very hazardous as they are extremely caustic. You may use liquid ammonia under careful supervision for engravings on metals like copper and aluminum, for refrigerating rooms and trucks, in addition to using this compound in chemistry laboratories to liquefy other elements. Majority of the ammonia produced commercially is used to in the form of fertilizers to supply plants with additional nitrogen. In addition, liquid ammonia is also used at some point or the other during the synthesizing process involved in the manufacture of dyes, plastics and pesticides.
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There was a time when people soaked cotton balls in liquid ammonia and put them in sealed bottles. When anyone fainted, they were given a whiff of the potent smell of this liquid ammonia with a view to revive them. Provided this was not done very often, this practice was considered to be safe enough.
Before Fritz Haber, a German chemist, invented the process called Haber process, all types of fertilizers were made using nitrate deposits that existed from before, for instance, the copious guano deposits found in the caves in South America or the coating due to bird droppings in various Pacific islands. With the introduction of the Haber process, it really became possible to undertake mass agriculture, enabling the great cities that we find today to exist. In addition, all the nitrogen content of the entire organic compounds manufactures have their source in ammonia.
Before Freon was invented in the year 1928, ammonia was used in the form of a regular refrigerant. Although comparatively less widespread, this chemical compound is used in small refrigerators even to this day. While CFCs are used in nearly all contemporary refrigerators in our homes, ammonia is once again being used in a large way as people are becoming aware that gases like CFCs are hazardous for the earth's ozone layer. This is all the more true in the industrial processes, for instance those involved in producing ice in bulk.
Occasionally people add ammonia and chlorine to drinking water to prepare a disinfectant called chloramine. Solutions containing roughly 5 to 10 per cent ammonia are also employed in the form of cleaners at homes. However, you should be careful not to mix these cleaning products with chlorine, because doing so may result in the formation of several types of toxic gases that may even cause cancer.
Since presence of surplus ammonia in the bloodstream may prove to be noxious, our body possesses a unique technique to remove it - by reducing excessive ammonia to a compound called urea. It may be noted that majority of the dry weight of our urine is attributable to urea.
In addition, ammonia may also be employed in the form of a fuel. Unlike other fuels, ammonia is not a very powerful fuel, but it does not leave any soot. In addition, the high quality of ammonia as a fuel led scientists to use it along with other fuels in the trial rocket aircraft - the X-15.
It is advisable that you should always store ammonia in a place that is further than the reach of children as well as pets. In addition, be careful not to combine ammonia with chlorine, bleach, bromine or oxidizers, because this may not only produce dangerous vapours, but may even cause an explosion. Most importantly, always keep ammonia away from direct sunlight and heat. It is important that you store all products containing ammonia in cool and dry place.
In case your skin is accidently exposed to ammonia, wash the affected area thoroughly for at least 15 minutes to get rid of the toxic chemical. On the other hand, if your eyes come in contact with this chemical compound, wash your eyes immediately with cold water. Similarly, if anyone ingests any product containing ammonia by chance, he/ she should drink milk immediately. Contact your neighbourhood poison control center right away in case you are vomiting or suffering from convulsions. Do not try to compel yourself to vomit in the event of ingesting ammonia accidently. In case you have come in contact with the toxic vapours of ammonia, just go to an open area or a place that is well ventilated.