On October 4th, the town of Olin, Iowa was evacuated because of an atmospheric release from a 1,500-pound tank of anhydrous ammonia at the River Valley Cooperative on the south side of town. Anhydrous ammonia is used as a fertilizer. Olin, Iowa has about 700 residents.
Anhydrous ammonia is classified as a hazardous substance. Anhydrous ammonia contains no water. Anhydrous is the Greek word for “without water.” Anhydrous ammonia has a very strong affinity for water. It requires large quantities of water to neutralize its caustic effects on moist areas of the body.
When anhydrous ammonia contacts water, it forms ammonium hydroxide. Living tissue is dehydrated quickly and the cells destroyed on contact. Anhydrous ammonia attacks any moist part of the body: eyes, ears, nose, throat, bronchia, lungs, any moist skin. Any tissue containing moisture is chemically burned.
Most accidents with anhydrous ammonia are due to uncontrolled releases. Few problems occur when the ammonia is being handled and applied as intended. Most uncontrolled releases are due to improper procedures, careless or untrained workers, or faulty equipment.