Anhydrous Ammonia

Dan Neenan is the Director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety. Email him at neenand@nicc.edu. See their full list of trainings.

Register for the February 24th webinar or watch the recording.

Learn about eye protection for work including anhydrous ammonia application from the National Farm Medicine Center.

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Read more about Pesticide and Chemical Safety from AgriSafe.

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Created by AgriSafe Network with support from the National Library Of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UG4LM012345. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.”

Script Arranged by Laura Siegel

Hosted by Carey Portell

Edited by Joel Sharpton

Special Guest: Dan Neenan

Transcript
Carey:

Welcome to the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast from AgriSafe Network. At AgriSafe, we work to protect the people that feed the world by supporting the health and safety professionals, ensuring access to preventative services for farm families and the agriculture community. Today's episode is brought to you by the network of the National Libraries of Medicine Region Three.

Carey:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working in agriculture, it’s that you can never be too prepared. While the winter season is currently in full swing, spring is just around the corner, which makes now the perfect time to start thinking about fertilizing our fields.

I’m your host, Carey Portell, and today we’re going to talk about a popular fertilizer called anhydrous ammonia, with guest Dan Neenan.

Carey:

All right, good morning, Dan. Thank you for being with us today on the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast. So can you give us your name, where you work, and what

is your background with this topic on anhydrous ammonia?

Dan:

Sure. So my name is Dan Neenan. I'm the director for the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety. We're located in Peosta, Iowa. My background? I'm a firefighter and paramedic and working here at the Safety Center, and we've developed several safety programs and or rescue programs for rural volunteer firefighters who would come up to and anhydrous release and have to respond to it.

Carey:

That sounds super interesting, and I'm sure that takes a lot of care and navigation with something like that. Now there are going to be people listening to this podcast that don't understand what anhydrous ammonia is. Can you explain that?

Dan:

Sure, anhydrous ammonia is a fertilizer, and basically it's meant to be able to put nitrogen back in the ground as the plants grow. They take the nitrogen out and it is a efficient fertilizer with putting it back into the ground. It also has some dangers that goes along with it that we'll talk about a little bit later. Anhydrous was also used as a refrigerant, You know, if you go to the back of hospitals, you'll see a big anhydrous tank there. And hospitals use it as a refrigerant. Now, again, safely contained, it works great in that aspect. If it's released, that's part of the danger is the temperature of what the anhydrous is. So actually, at a resting temperature anhydrous is at a negative forty four degrees Fahrenheit. So the freeze burns that will happen with that to a human are part of what makes a dangerous.

Carey:

Interesting. I just learned something new. I did not know that about the hospital situation. So in in talking about how anhydrous ammonia is used, is it primarily used crop use? Managing grass?

Dan:

In the farming aspect it's mostly used again as a fertilizer to put nitrogen back into the ground. It comes delivered to the farmer, or the farmer picks it up in a pressurized cylinder and that is hooked up then to an anhydrous toolbar, which is hooked up to the tractor. So as they go through the field, they're actually knifing the anhydrous into the ground. So it's not something that's sprayed onto the ground, it's knifed into the ground. And again, you know, it used to be that anhydrous was just applied in the spring of the year. And once we got to where the ground was unfrozen, it was, okay bar the door and we ran anhydrous twenty four hours a day, you know, to be able to get that in. That is now switched to where, you know, approximately I think 50 percent of it is done in the fall and 50 percent is done in the spring, which is help. But again, you're talking about a very short porch window of opportunity in the fall to get it in after harvest has taken place and before the freeze hits or in the spring after the freeze goes out of the ground to get it in before planting. So very short amount of time you get folks that are in a hurry to be able to do that. And again, that's when we get into a hurry. That's what causes some issues for us.

Dan:

Anhydrous is very dangerous. If you take a look at the word anhydrous, it means without water. So anhydrous is attracted to us. So in particular, the eyes, the nose with the mucous membranes, the mouth, the sweat glands and the genitalia. So that's where Anhydrous is attracted to. And again, at a negative forty four degrees Fahrenheit, it's going to freeze burn that tissue. The other thing that it's going to do to make it more painful is it's going to rob the moisture out of the skin, so it's going to dry it out, which is going to become more painful. In my thirty years now, being a paramedic, I don't think I've ever seen somebody in more pain than somebody who was sprayed in the eyes with Anhydrous, because if you remember your eyeballs are full of vitreous fluid. You know the interesting thing when we start talking treatment for somebody who was burned with Anhydrous for the first 15 minutes, the treatment is the same for a layperson as it is for a trauma surgeon. And that is water, water, water. We want to put as much water on there as we can to stop the burning process. Some of the things that we would normally do to treat a burn creams, ointments and savs we want to stay away from that for at least twenty four hours. Because what that's going to do is trap the anhydrous that's in the pores, it's going to trap it in there and the burning process will continue. So that's why we want to use water and that anhydrous evaporate out of the skin to stop that burning process.

Carey:

Oh my gosh, that sounds positively awful. You know, we don't want that. So in your opinion, what is the proper protection needed whenever farmers apply this?

Dan:

Well, you know, we need to take a look at what areas of the body are exposed. Ok. So taking a look and starting at the head, your eyes and your nose, your respiratory system is moist. Okay? It's wet, so that's a place that it's in high anhydrous is attracted to. You know, if you're taking a look at your windpipe, it's very narrow to start with and it's not very wide. And with any tissue that burns, it swells so it can close off that airway. So we want to wear non-vented goggles and we want to wear a respirator with anhydrous ammonia cartridges in it to be able to filter that out. And then, of course, any place that the anhydrous could touch your skin. So we want to have neoprene or lined leather gloves, and we want to cuff those, so we want to roll them over.

Dan:

But again, the thing to remember is that Anhydrous is looking for moisture, so we get that anhydrous on our hands and then we go to reach up to shut off the valve. If I don't put a cuff in that glove, the anhydrous is going to come down my arm and down into my sweat glands and my armpit and cause burns to be able to do that. So that's why we cuff those gloves. So that way, if there is any moisture that we're getting on there, it's going to get caught in the cuff and not get down and onto our skin. Anhydrous is heavier than air, so if there would be an upset of the anhydrous cylinder down into a ditch. I must it's really, really windy that Anhydrous is going to stay there down in that ditch. So folks that are coming to respond to that, whether it be the DOT or wrecker, the farmer themselves, the fire department, if they go down into that ditch to be able to check out you know…is the leak…what's going on? They need to be very protective of their feet and their legs. I've had several firefighters that have gotten burns to the legs because they're wearing their bunker boots and they're wearing their bunker pants. But the anhydrous is able to get up there and then burn the tissue to be able to do that. So we need to be very careful of it. You know, so again, Anhydrous is very good at what it does as a fertilizer, but it does have some extreme dangers to it.

Dan:

And when we talk either burning the tissues of the eyes, but we really need to be taking a look at the mouth and the nose because when those tissues get burned again, you know, any time you cut or you burn a bodily tissue, it's going to swell. And when you start talking about your windpipe, there's not a lot of room there for it to swell. So when we talk to the emergency responders for that, we want to keep our victim talking. And if they're going to start getting stridor or you're going to hear all the raspiness in there that's telling you that those tissues were damaged and that swelling could be being occurred. And that's the time where we may want to move over from ground transport to a helicopter transport. A lot of your ground ambulance, especially in the rural areas, may not have the capability to what we call RSI or paralyze somebody to put a tube in. If you're conscious and we try to put a tube in your throat to breathe, your gag reflex is going to kick that right back out. So we would use the RSI technique to paralyze somebody to put that tube in before that when pipe swell shut.

Carey:

Sounds like we just need to be careful from the get go.

Dan:

Absolutely.

Carey:

So in my area, we go to the local fertilizer plant, we pick up a buggy and most of the time we go ahead and spread that fertilizer the same day. But if you're not able to spread it the same day and you need to store it like maybe weather is a factor or just time, a lot of farmers has have off farm jobs now. What is the safest storage suggestions that you can give?

Dan:

Well, first of all, you definitely want to take a look at the wind direction and where it's at and what the forecast might be. Myself, I would not park them anywhere around the farmstead because if there would be a leak or if somebody is coming to try to get your anhydrous, which is a problem with folks stealing it because it's used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. So we need to be very clear about that. So, you know, parking those nurse tanks, getting them away from the home farm to be able to do that, checking one direction. You, of course, don't want to park right next to your neighbor and blow it that way, either, you know, so you need to take a look at where you can safely park it, that if there would be a leak, that it's going out into the field and not directly towards town or towards the farmstead.

Carey:

Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Carey:

We will be right back, after this break. Have you ever gotten a diagnosis and wanted more information about it? Maybe you have a question about a farm injury. Check out MedlinePlus.gov. A resource for health information for patients and their families. Brought to you by the world's largest medical library, the National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus.Gov gives you high quality, relevant health and wellness information that is trusted and easy to understand. Their information is available in both English and Spanish and free to you anytime, anywhere on Medlineplus.gov. You can get more information about a variety of health topics. Read about a medical test you may have to take research, drugs and supplements you may be interested in, plus much more. Check out Medline Plus Gov today to learn more.

Carey:

Now I know you said, you know, the prime times to spread fertilizer is spring and fall, and in my area, I know most of the time it's just spring like. And it's a financial factor. But how important is it to apply the fertilizer at the correct time of year and also calculating the correct amount to spread?

Dan:

Of course, you know, with anything putting the right amount on, if you don't put enough on them, there's not enough nitrogen in the ground for your plants. If you put too much on, you're wasting dollars and then that can also be a runoff that gets into the streams and into the rivers, and that can cause fish kills and issues of that nature. So you always want to take a look at what your settings are, that you read and you follow the label directions when that is delivered there. Whenever you accept an anhydrous tank there, you want to check with the folks that are delivering or if you pick it up. Each one of the anhydrous tanks has five gallons of water on a saddle tank on there. But when we get into the early spring or we get into the late fall where the overnight temperatures drop into the freezing range, a lot of times those tanks might get emptied so they don't crack. And that first line of defense for you, if you're out in the middle of the field and you get sprayed with anhydrous, anhydrous is water, water, water, water. So you want to make sure that there is water there before you take it out in the field and start applying.

Carey:

Yeah, that that seems to be a theme of this that I keep hearing man just have water anywhere that that for an emergency case, I guess that if if something does happen, that is going to be your best bet.

Dan:

Yeah, we talked to the EMS, folks. Most ambulances will carry two one liter bottles of saline. Well, if you've got a 20 minute transport and you're trying to keep the eyes moist to stop that burning process, you're going to go through that really quickly bouncing down the road. So we teach the EMS folks to do is to think outside of the box and spike a thousand liter bag of IV fluid. But instead of starting an IV with it, hook up a nasal cannula, which we normally deliver oxygen and then into the nose with. Hook that up and put the nasal cannula on the bridge of the nose so it can drip irrigation into the eyes as you're going to keep that moisture going, you know, as far as getting that burning process style.

Carey:

Absolutely. I bet they enjoyed that tip because that's not something that you would just automatically think of. Now in in applying the fertilizer, what is the outcome if there is excess fertilizer applied?

Dan:

Well, you know, you're definitely going to burn off probably some products that you don't want to, but again, you know, getting it into the groundwater, you know where it could possibly kill some fish, or if it's a stream that your animals are drinking out of or actually getting into the farm source, you know, the water source for the farm, you know, could be something that you need to take a look at as well if you have a spill. You need to take a look at what your state and local laws are for reporting that spill to the DNR. Ok. And it's really not a lot you know that you have to be able to notify them, but there's been a release of Anhydrous.

Carey:

Quick aside, when we say DNR here, we are referring to the Department of Natural Resources. Yeah, I don't think a lot of people think about that runoff. I know we always try to coincide it with, you know, is it going to rain in the next few days so that, you know, hopefully you pray for a slow, soft rain, so it really soaks in into the ground? But I don't think a lot of people really think about if you get that torrential rain, you know, the day after you apply it, you're like, Oh my gosh, where is it going? You know.

Dan:

Typically you're going to burn the weeds to start with. But then once they start growing back, they've got an abundance of nitrogen and it's going to be really, really green in that area for a little bit.

Carey:

Yeah, you can always tell, like whenever I spread the fertilizer, if if I don't get my rows quite right, it's either a little extra green on a row or I'm like, Ooh, didn't quite get close enough to that last one. So in talking about runoff, how can fertilizer runoff be reduced to reduce that underground water absorption of that chemical?

Dan:

Oh, again, following reading and following the label directions, making sure that you're setting up the distribution that it's coming out right? If you follow the safety directions, then hopefully you won't have a leak again, which can be dangerous to the applicator and dangerous to the surrounding area as well. So again, reading and following the label directions and making sure that you take the time on the anhydrous toolbar to do maintenance on it when there's not anhydrous in it, you know, a lot of times the points get plugged on there and the applicator will work to clear that. And when it clears, it comes out under pressure, and a lot of times they'll get sprayed into the face or onto the chest with that anhydrous. So again, time of the year when we're looking at, you know, it's colder, so we've got to get their coat off. We've got to get their shirt off because if that shirt's wet with anhydrous and it's up against the skin, it's burning. So we need to get that off and the copious amounts of water. So we do need to be aware of putting the person into hypothermia. So when you need to get them into a warm area, a lot of times people think when they're cold, they put a blanket on and they rub and you never, ever want to do that on skin that has had anhydrous on it because you're going to peel the skin right off by trying to do that and warm them up, you know, so there's things to think about. We absolutely have to get that burning process stopped. So the water is necessary, then we're going to need to worry about what their core temperature is and get that warm back up as soon as we can.

Carey:

Yeah, I'm sitting here thinking about now I purposely want to make sure that we have water everywhere. I'm thinking about all the half empty water bottles that are in my truck and tractor. But you know, when you need a full bottle of something, you want it right there. So that's that's something I'm going to really think about.

Dan:

If you take a look at a lot of the co-ops where they fill those anhydrous tanks, they've got the barrels of water there. And when they first fill them up, that water is clean. But after a month, that water starts to look a little scummy. You still want to get in that tank, even if that water is grown over and green. You know, if the body gets burned, there is the capability of infection. So part of that treatment is going to be IV antibiotics anyway. So, you know, don't worry about what the condition of that water is. You need to again get that burning process, stop with as little damage as possible, and we'll treat for possible infection for what's in that water at that point.

Carey:

It'll take care of it anyway. So no matter what it looks like, just get in it.

Dan:

Absolutely.

Carey:

All right. Our last question here. agriculturist are faced with the need to enhance productivity to meet consumption in many turn to commercial fertilizers for this purpose. What recommendations do you suggest for the farmer to ensure safety not only for themselves, but for the environment?

Dan:

Well, the PPE, and if you're not that familiar with that, if you're going to be applying the anhydrous yourself, the co-op that you purchase the anhydrous from should have that safety PPE available for you.

Carey:

Now, for those of you listening, if you don't understand what PPE means, that is personal protective equipment. So mask, goggles, gloves, that kind of thing. And here at AgriSafe safe we push PPE very, very highly.

Dan:

You know, you need to take a look at your own personal self, you know, with whether that respirator fits correctly for you. And you know, we're actually when we developed the anhydrous ammonia safety program, it's part of a series of what we're doing for female safety. And a lot of the PPE that was out there was made for a man and fits the size of a man. So if you're a lady that's doing this, you need to make sure that you're taking the time to research. Does that mask fit me? If not, there are masks that are made to do that, but they might not be as commercially available as what it is for a male, you know, and you want to make sure that you take that time as you're looking at your your rubber gloves that you use. You want to make sure that you don't just bottle them up to store them, but that they're stored where they're clean or they're dry and always take a look at them before you put them on. If they start to develop cracks. They need to be replaced. Ok, now we all have those people that we work with that believe in using everything to the very end anhydrous gloves is not one of those deals because if one of those cracks goes clear through, somebody is going to get burned. So I always recommend that if you're going to take those gloves out of service, take a scissors and cut the fingers off the gloves before you throw them away because there are people out there that will see them in the trash, oh, we can use them a little bit longer. Let's pull them out.

Carey:

Yes, there are those people. I, for one, have learned a lot. You know, you apply this stuff every year, but you really, as a farmer, I haven't really dived into the specifics. So I think our listeners have learned a lot as well. Is there anything else that you want to add before we end today?

Dan:

So, you know, talk to your fire departments. Are they trained to be able to deal with anhydrous release?

Carey:

Yeah, that's a good point. Well, I, for one, have enjoyed you so much today and I know our listeners will too.

Carey:

Thank you, Dan, for joining us! And thanks to our listeners for joining us for another episode of Talking Total Farmer Health. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast to hear more from AgriSafe on the health and safety issues impacting agricultural workers. If you want to hear more from Dan on anhydrous ammonia safety, join us on February 24th for a webinar. The webinar will be recorded for those who want to listen after the 24th and the link will be in the show notes. To see more from AgriSafe, including webinars and our newsletter, visit www.agrisafe.org. This episode was created by AgriSafe Network with The Network of National Library of Medicine Region Three. Script arranged by Laura Siegel, hosted by Carey Portell, edited by Joel Sharpton. Special guest was Dan Neenan.

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