The structure of an ammonia molecule consists of one nitrogen atom surrounded by three hydrogen atoms in a trigonal pyramidal molecular geometry. Ammonia is denoted as NH3 in formulas and is also referred to as ammonia gas, nitro-sil, Spirit of Hartshorn, anhydrous ammonia, aromatic ammonia and vaporole. Its molecular weight is 17.0305.
Ammonia is a colorless, pungent smelling gas. It is sourced both naturally and through manufacturing. From nature, it is produced from the decay of living things, bacteria and animal waste. It provides a source of nitrogen for animals and plants, naturally occurring in the air, water and soil.
Manufactured ammonia is most often used in fertilizers. Other manufacturing uses include:
- pulp and paper
- synthetic fibers
- smelling salts
- cleaning products
- fuel cells
- rocket fuel
- other chemicals, such as nitric acid and cyanide
Ammonia is also used in various industries:
- Metal treating and chlorine water treatment.
- Rubber industry: used to stabilize raw latex.
- Petroleum industry: protects equipment.
- Citrus farming: applied to oranges, lemons and grapefruit stored in warehouses to prevent fungus.
Ammonia can also be used as a refrigerant in meat, fish and poultry processing facilities; dairy and ice cream plants; breweries and wineries; food and drink processing facilities and general cold storage warehousing.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, exposure to low levels of ammonia is common and includes uses of ammonia in the home, on farms through fertilizers and at work if the facility uses chemicals containing ammonia. Exposure to elevated levels of ammonia can be dangerous, causing fluid buildup in lungs and burning eyes, throat and skin. Swallowing ammonia will burn the mouth, throat and stomach and may cause acute abdominal pain. Direct exposure to skin can cause burns, blistering and dermatitis. Direct contact on the eyes may cause irritation or damage to the cornea, conjunctivitis and temporary or permanent blindness.