Ammonia Leakage fromRefrigeration Plant and theManagement Practice
R.K. Gangopadhyay and S.K. Das
Chemical Engineering Department, University of Calcutta, Kolkata 700 009, India; email@example.com (for correspondence)Published online 13 July 2007 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI 10.1002/prs.10208
This article deals with the two incidents of ammo-nia leakage in industries situated in West Bengal, India, and the probable causes of the accident and the ensuing sequence of events. Emergency proce-dures are also discussed.
2007 American Instituteof Chemical Engineers Process Saf Prog 27: 15–20,2008
Keywords: ammonia; leakage; oil separator; hazard;emergency procedures
Ammonia is a chemically reactive gas that is very soluble in water and is much lighter than air (vapordensity 0.59 of that of air). Cold vapor (e.g., fromleaks) may however be denser than air. Althoughthere have been incidents of exposure to harmfulconcentrations of ammonia in the world there havebeen few fatal accidents. Ammonia is characterizedby a typical pungent odor and is detectable by mostpeople at levels of about 5 ppm in the atmosphere. Although workers become tolerant to this effect andin the past have been able to work without distressat levels up to 70 ppm, currently the recommendedexposure limit for ammonia is 25 ppm, 8 h time- weighted average (TWA) and the short-term exposurelimit is 35 ppm, 10 min TWA. At 400 ppm, most peo-ple experience immediate nose and throat irritation,but suffer no permanent ill effects after 30–60 min ex-posure. A level of 700 ppm causes immediate irrita-tion to the eyes, and a level of 1,700 ppm (0.17%) will give rise to repeated coughing and can be fatalafter about 30 min exposure. Exposure to concentra-tions exceeding 5,000 ppm (0.5%) for quite shortperiods can result in death. Response to the effects of ammonia varies widely between individuals, and thedose-response effects described above are likely tobe those experienced by the more susceptible mem-bers of the population. Henderson and Haggard tabulated (Table1) the physiological response of am-monia. Ammonia is absorbed in the human body by inha-lation, ingestion, and probably percutaneously at con-centrations high enough to cause skin injury. Dataare not available on absorption of low concentrationsthrough the skin. Once absorbed, ammonia is con- verted to an ammonium ion as the hydroxide and assalts, especially as carbonates. The ammonium saltsare rapidly converted to urea, thus maintaining anisotonic system. Ammonia is also formed and con-sumed endogenously by the metabolism and synthe-sis of amino acids. Excretion is primarily by way of the kidneys, but an insigniﬁcant amount is passedthrough the sweat glands. The National Institute forOccupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recom-mended time-weighted average (TWA) for anhydrousammonia is 25 ppm (18 mg/m
) and the short-termexposure limit (STEL) is the same .
Ammonia is used as a refrigerant because of itsparticular thermodynamic properties, which enablesit to move heat far more efﬁciently than other refrig-erant gases such as halogenated hydrocarbons. It isparticularly suited in the range of
C andhence is widely used for food preservation, the chill-ing of liquids, such as milk, beer and soft drinks, andin the chemical industry. New systems continue to beinstalled. A simple system theoretically needs fourcomponents (Figure 1) (1) evaporator, (2) compres-sor, (3) condenser, and (4) reducing valve. In practiceother components such as an oil separator, inter-cooler, liquid receiver, surge drum, and liquid pumps
2007 American Institute of Chemical Engineers
Process Safety Progress (Vol.27, No.1) March 2008 15