Ammonia Uses and Benefits, Chemical Safety Facts

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Ammonia

Ammonia, a colorless gas with a distinct odor, is a building-block chemical and a key component in the manufacture of many products people use every day. It occurs naturally throughout the environment in the air, soil and water and in plants and animals, including humans. The human body makes ammonia when the body breaks down foods containing protein into amino acids and ammonia, then converting the ammonia into urea.

Ammonium hydroxide – commonly known as household ammonia – is an ingredient in many everyday household cleaning products.

Ammonia is a basic building block for ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which releases nitrogen, an essential nutrient for growing plants, including farm crops and lawns.

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Uses & Benefits

Ammonia in Fertilizer

About 90 percent of ammonia produced is used in fertilizer, to help sustain food production for billions of people around the world. The production of food crops naturally depletes soil nutrient supplies. In order to maintain healthy crops, farmers rely on fertilizers to keep their soils productive. Fertilizers also can also help increase levels of essential nutrients like zinc, selenium and boron in food crops.

Ammonia in Household Cleaning Products

On its own or as an ingredient in many household cleaning products, ammonia can be used to clean a variety of household surfaces – from tubs, sinks and toilets to bathroom and kitchen countertops and tiles. Ammonia also is effective at breaking down household grime or stains from animal fats or vegetable oils, such as cooking grease and wine stains. Because ammonia evaporates quickly, it is commonly used in glass cleaning solutions to help avoid streaking.

Ammonia in Industrial/Manufacturing Uses

When used as a refrigerant gas and in air-conditioning equipment, ammonia can absorb substantial amounts of heat from its surroundings.

Ammonia can be used to purify water supplies and as a building block in the manufacture of many products including plastics, explosives, fabrics, pesticides and dyes.

Ammonia also is used in the waste and wastewater treatment, cold storage, rubber, pulp and paper and food and beverage industries as a stabilizer, neutralizer and a source of nitrogen. It also is used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.

Safety Information

When using cleaning products containing ammonia, follow all instructions on the product label, make sure the area is well ventilated (open windows and doors) and wear proper clothing and eye protection. Ammonia exposure can irritate skin, eyes and lungs. Do not mix ammonia with chlorine bleach, as this produces toxic gases called chloramines. Exposure to chloramine gases can cause coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, irritation to the throat, nose and eyes or pneumonia and fluid in the lungs.

Swallowing a cleaning product that contains ammonia can burn the mouth, throat, and stomach and cause severe abdominal pain. If a cleaning product containing ammonia is accidentally ingested, read the product label for safety instructions, or call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, and be sure to have the label from the cleaning product in hand.

Medical tests can detect ammonia in blood or urine. But because ammonia occurs naturally in the environment, people are regularly exposed to low levels of ammonia in air, soil and water, so these test results are not considered effective biomarkers of exposure. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) states that “no health effects have been found in humans exposed to typical environmental concentrations of ammonia.”

Answering Questions

What is ammonia used for?

About 90 percent of ammonia produced is used in fertilizer, to help sustain food production for billions of people around the world. Ammonia has other important uses; for example in household cleaning products and in manufacturing other products.

What is ammonia?

Ammonia, also known as NH3, is a colorless gas with a distinct odor composed of nitrogen and hydrogen atoms. It is produced naturally in the human body and in nature—in water, soil and air, even in tiny bacteria molecules. In human health, ammonia and the ammonium ion are vital components of metabolic processes.

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What happens to ammonia in the environment?

Ammonia occurs naturally and is found throughout the environment in soil, air, and water. Ammonia also is renewed naturally as part of the nitrogen cycle that already occurs as plants fertilize. As a result of this natural process, ammonia does not last long in the environment, and it also does not bioaccumulate.

What does ammonia smell like?

Ammonia has a very distinct, pungent odor, described as similar to sweat or cat urine. Strong, briny cheeses like brie can also smell like ammonia. Cheeses even have small amounts of ammonia in them, as a natural by-product of the cheese aging process.

How might I be exposed to ammonia?

Ammonia occurs naturally in the environment, so everyone is exposed to low levels at one point or another. It is possible for a person to be exposed to higher levels of ammonia when using cleaning products containing ammonia, or if they live on or near farms where fertilizers are used. It’s also possible to be exposed to higher levels of ammonia if a person spends time in an enclosed building that contains lots of animals.

How can ammonia exposure affect my health?

No health effects have been found in humans exposed to typical amounts of ammonia that exist in the environment. Exposure to high levels of ammonia in air may be irritating to a person’s skin, eyes, throat, and lungs and cause coughing and burns.

www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org

Sulphate of Ammonia

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A ready to use fertiliser providing a rapid source of Nitrogen and Sulphur, which is ideal for encouraging strong leaf and stem development.

  • Fast acting nitrogen feed
  • Cures leaf yellowing
  • Ready to use granules
  • Promotes lush, green, healthy foliage
  • Encourages strong leaf growth
  • NPK 21-0-0

Sizes available

  • Product Details
  • How to use
  • Tips & Advice

Why Use

This product has very high nitrogen content. This makes it ideal for encouraging strong leaf and stem development. Nitrogen also helps improve leaf colour, promotes lush, green, leafy vegetables and counteracts chlorosis (leaf yellowing). It also contains Sulphur to create greener leaves and vegetables.

What to Expect

Plants will grow producing healthy stem and leaf growth with improved lush, greener foliage. Leaf yellowing is corrected.

For best results: When planting out vegetables always use a dedicated compost to give your plants the very best start.

When to Use

Apply every 4-6 weeks during the growing season from March to the end of August. For best results the granules should be worked into the soil. During dry weather water well before and after application.

How to Use

One medium-sized handful of Sulphate of Ammonia is approximately 35g (1¼ oz).

Apply Sulphate of Ammonia every 4-6 weeks to maintain best plant quality.

Vegetables

Apply 35g/sq. m (1¼ oz/sq. yd) as a top dressing to the soil surface and work in well.

Trees, Shrubs and Flowers

Apply 35g/sq. m (1¼ oz/sq. yd) around established plants. Gently fork into the soil surface without disturbing the roots. Take care that the granules do not touch the plant leaves or stems. Water in well after application.

General Advice

  • To be used only where there is a recognised need
  • Do not exceed the appropriate application rate. Increasing the dosage may result in damage to your plants
  • Store in a dry, frost free place away from children, pets and foodstuff
  • Wash hands and exposed skin after use. Gloves are recommended when handling this product
  • Children and pets can continue to use treated areas immediately after application
  • Contents may settle during transit

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can my children & pets go into the treated area?

A. Yes, this product can be used near children and pets

Q. The leaves of my hedge are looking yellow, will this product help?

A. Yes, as a rapid source of nitrogen this will help counteract yellowing of leaves

Q. What should I do if I put on too much of the product?

A. Remove any visible granules and heavily water the area to dissolve and wash through excess product

Q. Can I use this on my lawn?

A. We do not recommend using this product on your lawn, we would recommend a lawn fertiliser such as Aftercut Ultra Green Plus or Safelawn

www.gardenhealth.com

Safety Tips for Using Manure in Your Vegetable Garden

Avoiding E. Coli Contamination and Disease

Animal manure has been used in vegetable gardens for centuries. It adds nutrients and organic matter, aiding in the development of healthy, living soil. However, there have been many health scares linking the use of manure as a fertilizer to breakouts of E. coli (Escherichia coli), which may make you wonder: Is it safe to add manure to a vegetable garden?

According to University of Illinois Plant Pathologist Nancy Pataky, the bacteria that is already on plant roots, as well as bacteria and fungi in the soil, would compete with E. coli and keep it in check, perhaps even feed on it. «Additionally, no research has indicated that the E. coli bacterium is anything more than a surface contaminant.»

That said, it’s quite possible for manure to spread disease to human beings, although there have not been many long-term studies involving manure and home gardens. According to Van Bobbitt and Dr. Val Hillers of Washington State University Extension, «Pathogens can be transferred from animal manures to humans. The pathogens salmonella, listeria, and E.coli 0157:H7, as well as parasites, such as roundworms and tapeworms, have been linked to applications of manure to gardens.» As for E. coli, contamination can occur when any type of food comes in contact with animal feces.

Tips for Avoiding Contamination by Manure

There is always a risk when you use manure or manure tea in your garden, but there are some precautions you can take to stay safe.

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Don’t Use Fresh Manure

Aside from contamination risk, the fresher the manure, the more of a chance it will be high in nitrogen and ammonia, which can burn plant roots and even inhibit seed germination. If the manure is from a plant-eating animal, it is probably also full of weed seeds, which will not be inhibited from sprouting.

If you still want to make use of fresh manure, don’t apply it after your garden has been planted. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends an application window of 120 days prior to harvesting and eating any vegetable where the edible part comes in contact with the ground. That includes anything grown below the ground (beets, carrots, potatoes, radishes, etc.) as well as anything sitting on the ground, like lettuce, spinach, and even vining crops like cucumbers and squash. You can apply fresh manure up to 90 days prior to harvest for vegetables that are far enough away from the soil that nothing will splash up on them but err on the side of caution.

Find Other Ways to Use Manure in the Garden

Instead of using manure as a fertilizer, use it as a soil conditioner. Add fresh manure in the fall for spring planting. It will have time to work into the soil and compost. Wait until all vegetables have been harvested before adding it to the soil.

Another option is to side-dress with composted manure during the growing season. Manure that is composted lessens the risk of contamination, especially if the pile heats up to 140 degrees or more. You can purchase composted manure or, if you have a source of fresh manure, compost it yourself. According to Stephen Reiners, Cornell University horticulturist, hot summer temperatures will usually kill E. coli.

Make Sure It’s Free of Pathogens

If you are buying packaged manure, the bag should state whether it is pathogen-free. Don’t assume that just because it is sold as fertilizer that it is fully composted. If you are getting your manure locally, inquire at the farm if their animals have had any health problems.

Use Common Sense Precautions

Thoroughly wash your hands and nails before and after harvesting produce grown with manure. Since root crops (beets, carrots, radishes) and leafy vegetables (chard, lettuce, spinach) are the most susceptible to contamination, wash these vegetables well and possibly peel them before eating. Cooking will also kill pathogens.

If you have been susceptible to foodborne illness in the past, avoid eating any uncooked vegetables fertilized with manure. Children, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic diseases should also avoid eating these vegetables.

Not All Manure Is Created Equal

The nutrient value of manures varies by animal. Chicken manure is considered to be the most beneficial for your garden, with an N-P-K ratio of about 1.1–0.8–0.5. Compare that with cows at 0.6–0.2–0.5 and horse manure, 0.7–0.3–0.6. Of course, even within the same species, the quality of the manure will vary.

Most sources recommend avoiding the use of pig, cat, and dog manure in the garden because it may contain parasites that can survive in the soil and infect humans.

www.thespruce.com

Perlite: What It Is And How To Use It In Your Garden

When you open up a bag of commercial potting mix, you expect to see little white specks in it without really questioning why they’re there. But what is perlite, really? What is perlite made of? What does it do for the soil, and is there a reason to add more?

Here, we’ll explore the world of horticultural perlite, and shed some light on the best ways to put it to use for you.

My Favorite Perlite Brands

  • Aerates soil and promotes root growth
  • Helps loosen heavy soils
  • Prevents compaction
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  • Lightweight soil conditioner
  • Loosens clay soil
  • Improves drainage and aeration
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  • Helps plants thrive
  • Improves soil structure
  • Keeps soil workable for years

Listen to this post on the Epic Gardening Podcast

What is Perlite?

Perlite is a form of amorphous volcanic glass, although it’s often confused by new gardeners as being some lightweight material like styrofoam. It’s occasionally called expanded pyrite and has the nickname “volcanic popcorn”, and I’ll get into why in the next segment. If you looked at a piece of horticultural perlite under a microscope, you would see that it’s quite porous. The cavities in perlite help store nutrients and some moisture that the plant might need, but drain excess water away. It is non-toxic, clean, disease-free, and extremely lightweight and easy to work with..

Perlite is often used in industrial settings as well as in the garden. It’s commonly mixed into such products as lightweight plasters, ceiling tiles, or masonry for stability or as an insulator. It’s also popular as a filtration agent, often used for filtering spent grain or other solids out of beer or in the biochemical industry.

There’s many other uses, but to gardeners, it’s an essential ingredient in their garden.

How is Perlite Made?

Perlite begins as a naturally-forming volcanic glass, a special variety which is created when obsidian makes contact with water. This type of volcanic glass has a much higher H2O content than other varieties. Like most other materials from volcanic origin, it’s in the grey to black range with some color variation, and is very dense and heavy. So why does the stuff we use in gardening appear to be white and lightweight?

Expanded perlite is formed when normal pyrite is heated. Heating perlite to a range of 1,560-1,650 °F (850-900 °C) causes the mineral to soften. As it does, the water that’s trapped in the volcanic glass vaporizes and tries to escape. This causes the glass to expand to 7-16 times its original volume, and remaining trapped air changes the color from dark to a brilliant white due to the reflectivity of the remaining water inside the glass.

This newly-created material is much lighter in weight than its previous form and has numerous crevices and cavities. It can easily be crushed with moderate pressure, but does not crumble under the light pressure exerted on it by other soils, and it doesn’t decay or shrink. It is clean and sterile.

The typical chemical composition of perlite varies slightly, as most volcanic glass does. However, perlite which is optimal for the expanding process typically consists of 70-75% silicon dioxide. Other chemicals include:

  • aluminum oxide (12-15%)
  • sodium oxide (3-4%)
  • potassium oxide (3-5%)
  • iron oxide (0.5-2%)
  • magnesium oxide (0.2-0.7%)
  • and calcium oxide (0.5-1.5%)

All of these are natural minerals, and are often part of other soil blends. It has a pH of 6.6 to 7.5.

Using Perlite In Your Garden

As mentioned earlier, perlite offers a lot of benefits to your garden.

The most important one is drainage. Perlite is a natural filtration system, allowing excess water to easily drain away while retaining a little moisture and catching nutrients that plants need to grow. This is especially true in raised beds and container gardens, but also in the ground as well.

Airflow in the soil is greatly improved in a bed amended with perlite, and that’s necessary both for your plant’s roots to breathe and for any worms, beneficial nematodes, and other good natural garden inhabitants. Because it’s a mineral glass and thus harder than the soil around it, it also helps to slow down compaction, and keeps your soil fluffy and lightweight.

What Type of Perlite to Use

People often ask whether you should use coarse perlite as opposed to medium or fine-grade. Coarse perlite has the highest air porosity, so it offers the most drainage capability and ensures the roots of your plants can breathe well. It’s popular among people who grow orchids and succulents, and also people who do a lot of container gardening, as it provides excellent drainage, but the coarser bits don’t work their way to the surface of the soil blend as much as fine perlite does. Larger perlite is also less prone to being caught by a breeze and blown away!

The finer stuff is useful as well, but it’s used for in quality seed-starting mixes or rooting cuttings as the drainage provided encourages rapid root production. Fine perlite can also be lightly scattered across your lawn’s surface, where over time it’ll work down into the soil and improve drainage.

If you’re making your own potting soil, perlite is one of the most used components in the industry for the above reasons. It’s cheap, lightweight, and easy to blend into peat or other water-retaining ingredients! But there’s other additives like diatomaceous earth and vermiculite. Why shouldn’t you use those instead?

Again, it comes back to drainage. Diatomaceous earth, or DE as it’s also referred to, is more moisture-retentive than perlite is. It’s usually available as a powder rather than a granule, so it doesn’t reduce soil compaction in the same way, and it tends to clump when wet, which doesn’t allow as good airflow. There are many other uses for diatomaceous earth in the garden including pest control, and you can use it in conjunction with your perlite, but not to replace it.

When comparing perlite vs. vermiculite, vermiculite is very moisture retentive. It’ll absorb water and nutrients and keep them in the soil, which makes it perfect for seed starting blends or for plants that prefer lots of water. In conjunction with perlite, the vermiculite will absorb water and nutrients to feed your plants, while the perlite will help drain the excess water away. So both have their own place in your garden, even in the same container or bed, but they’re not interchangeable.

Using Perlite In Hydroponics

Perlite has its place in soil, but it is extremely useful in hydroponic gardening as well. One of the most popular ways to use it in hydroponics is in propagating plants by cuttings. As roots grow in response to the plant searching for a water source, a well-draining media like coarse perlite tends to provoke them to grow rapidly as they search for the tiny pockets of nutrients and moisture hidden within the mineral base. Ensuring that your cuttings are well-drained also prevents root rot. It helps if you use a rooting compound like Clonex to further stimulate root growth, too.

To take care of your cuttings better, see my article on caring for your plant cuttings.

Even after your cuttings are started, perlite can be a standalone hydroponic growing media. However, it can be problematic in higher-water settings, such as ebb-and-flow systems or deep water culture. The lightweight nature of perlite, and its high air content, means it tends to float… and you don’t want your media to wash away!

Where To Buy Perlite

One place to buy bulk perlite is at a big box store like Home Depot. Most stores have a reasonable selection, although you may wish to closely look at the label to make sure that it is 100% perlite rather than a soil or fertilizer blend. You can also find it at a good hydroponics store as well. But I like to order it online where I can easily find a perlite to suit my personal preferences. There’s a wide variety, but a few types which I’d recommend are

Perlite is truly a multipurpose additive to your plant media, providing lots of benefit with relatively few drawbacks. Whether you grow in containers on your patio, or are starting cuttings indoors under grow lights, you will find it to be a useful addition to your garden shed. It offers superior drainage at a low price and won’t break down. This volcanic popcorn really works!

www.epicgardening.com

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