Treatment of Ammonia with Hydrogen Peroxide

Can Hydrogen Peroxide Treat Ammonia?

Ammonia is one of the most abundant byproducts produced during metabolism. However, it is very poisonous to the body. So, our body has mechanisms that immediately filter out all of this ammonia and convert it into non-toxic products.

But what happens when the body comes into contact with high amounts of ammonia? Is there a treatment for it?

As ammonia is so commonly produced and dumped into the rivers, water scarcity is produced. How can this wastewater be managed? And what role does hydrogen peroxide play in treating water contaminated with ammonia?

So without further ado, let’s find out answers to all of them, and more!

Ammonia Toxicity

Ammonia is a highly corrosive chemical. The severity of ammonia poisoning directly correlates with the amount and route of entry into the body. Ammonia poisoning is not something you can treat. However, the associated symptoms can be managed.

Nonetheless, ammonia contact can lead to a medical emergency which should be countered immediately!

Some of the most common causes of ammonia poisoning and its associated treatment plans are given below.

1. Chemically Burns the Eyes

People who work in industries without adequate equipment suffer from this type of ammonia reaction.  Eye burns are present in the form of redness, tearing, pain, and even conjunctival rupture.

As ammonia is a corrosive gas, when just the tiny bits enter your eyes, they cause mild to severe irritation. Moreover, people can get ammonia into their eyes by not being careful during its handling. After the use of ammonia, make sure to clean your hands right away thoroughly. Secondly, administer the use of gloves during ammonia handling.

At higher concentrations of ammonia, severe cases can arise. As ammonia is a gas, it is relatively easy to leak it, which can cause damage to your body. Mishandling of ammonia is more common in households where it is used in cleaning and disinfecting.

If you or someone around you has ammonia exposure to the eyes, make sure to follow a procedure.

Start by removing contact lenses if you are wearing any. Then proceed to wash your eyes with water for about 5 to 10 minutes. If your vision is not proper and feels blurry, seek medical help immediately.

2. Breathing Problems

Ammonia is a corrosive gas with a pungent odor. Therefore, it is difficult for people to get high amounts of ammonia into their respiratory tract without suspecting beforehand.

The pungent smell of ammonia is detectable at concentrations as low as five ppm. As a scale, ammonia concentrations of up to 100 ppm in the air do not show any harmful effects for up to several hours! At higher concentrations like the mid-2000 ppm range, things start to get serious. A concentration of 5000 ppm ammonia can lead to an immediate respiratory arrest.

It is very uncommon to get access to such high concentrations of ammonia in a household setting. Moreover, 70 to 80 percent of ammonia gets absorbed in the mucus of the upper respiratory tract. However, at more prolonged exposure, ammonia can get into the bloodstream through the lungs and put a load on the liver.

Patients with inhalation injury due to ammonia can have rhinorrhea (thin nasal discharge), chest tightness, cough, and dyspnea (irregular breathing). In addition, inhalation of concentrated ammonia can cause coughing, laryngospasm, and edema.

The treatment for ammonia inhalation lies in moving the victim away from the source of poisoning. Then check for consciousness. If the sufferer seems fine and shows moderate signs and symptoms, the body can treat itself with ammonia. However, if the patient is unconscious or seems distressed, contact a hospital immediately.

3. Skin Lesions

Direct skin contact with ammonia can cause damage to the skin. However, it is essential to know the degree of damage to the skin varies with ammonia concentration.

Lower concentrations such as the modest 100 ppm can seldom cause any adverse signs or symptoms. It is only the dry solid form of ammonia known as anhydrous ammonia, which can cause skin injury. It has a concentration of usually 5000 ppm and can manifest skin injury in the form of painful skin lesions.

Skin burns caused by ammonia should be treated like regular skin burns. What you’d want to do is first quickly remove any clothing that may have ammonia on it. After removing them, safely store them away in plastic bags and dispose of them.

The next step is to wash away ammonia from your skin with large amounts of water and soap to remove all the residue that might be present. While performing the procedure, DO NOT use bleach to remove ammonia from your skin. Bleach and ammonia react to form deadly chlorine gas, which can be lethal in high amounts.

After the wound is thoroughly washed, regularly moisturize or irrigate it for at least 24 hours. You should also avoid using any medications or dressing over the ammonia burn as it may prevent the natural elimination of ammonia via evaporation.

4. GIT Ulcers

Ingesting ammonia is a rare but severe case. Fortunately, our body has built-in mechanisms which effectively filter out ammonia from the bloodstream and convert it into harmless by-products such as urea (thanks to the liver). But at very high amounts of ammonia intake (such as seen in the history of suicidal ingestion of ammonia-containing products like common household-based ammonia cleaners), it can lead to systemic poisoning.

The classic sign of ammonia ingestion is a patient presenting with throat, abdominal, and chest pain. Moreover, high concentrations of ammonia may damage the esophageal lining known as GIT Ulcers and even cause perforations in it.

The treatment plan for oral ingestion of ammonia lies in dilution. The first step is to hinder the effects of ammonia by taking large amounts of water and milk. Next, you should consult a gastroenterologist for an endoscopic evaluation. This will ensure the extent of damage and the proper way to proceed. Do not vomit after the ingestion, as ammonia may damage the esophageal lining while traveling upwards.

Routes Via Which Ammonia Can Reach You

Ammonia is one of the most widespread toxins. It is the most significant component of organic waste as well as industrial waste. And to make matters worse, it is also very harmful to the body.

Our body constantly produces ammonia as a byproduct. However, it is instantly filtered out by the liver. Ammonia goes under a series of processes (ornithine cycle) to form urea. Urea is far less toxic than ammonia and is one of the significant components of excretion.

However, additional amounts of ammonia can lead to toxicity. Some of the most common routes of ammonia poisoning are discussed below.

  • Contaminated Water

Water, especially river water, is the most prominent dumping place for organic and inorganic wastes. It is the site where sewage drains and also where industries throw away their junk.

If the water is not sanitized correctly, it can infect people who consume it. Such cases are mainly seen in third-world countries where the mechanism to clean water is poor. Similarly, the banks around contaminated water are inhabited by the underprivileged, increasing their exposure to the wastewater. Therefore, a spike in contamination-related diseases like diarrhea, Diphtheria, and typhoid is seen.

Ammonia is one of the major wastes found in wastewater, and it is also one of the most poisonous. Unawareness in people can lead to ammonia poisoning, which is untreatable!

  • Aerosols

Aerosols are suspensions of gas and vapors which may be produced as waste or made intentionally for treatment purposes. Unfortunately, studies have shown all types of aerosol sprays are harmful to the environment as well as people.

One of the prominent examples seen is the CFC aerosol sprays which are used in refrigeration. Countless articles have pointed towards the relationship between CFC sprays and ozone depletion. The particles from aerosol spray travel up to the ozone layer and “eat it away”. Thus, resulting in high UV radiation from the sun and increased global warming.

Similarly, aerosol sprays containing ammonia as its ingredient can be as harmful to the human body as CFCs are to the ozone layer. Ammonia aerosol sprays are commonly used for cleaning and disinfecting purposes. However, as ammonia is a gas and a corrosive one in nature, people can come into contact during its usage.

Therefore, the use of aerosol sprays containing ammonia should be avoided. Instead, liquid disinfectants such as hydrogen peroxide are not only safer but also more effective!

  • Unwashed Farm Produce

Almost all of the food we consume is produced on farms. Either it is directly delivered as produce at our homes or acts as a raw material for a variety of other products we consume.

Plants use soil as their primary source of nutrition. It needs nitrogen, oxygen, and water to grow and nurture. Thus, the extent to which a plant can grow correlates with the fertility of the soil. However, some soils are more fertile than others. And this is where fertilizers come into play.

Fertilizers are a mixture of chemicals and products that are essential for plant growth. It contains primarily nitrogen, magnesium, and phosphorus derivatives which plants can uptake. And ammonia is the form of fertilizer that delivers nitrogen to the plants.

Therefore, if farm produce is not washed correctly with a disinfectant such as hydrogen peroxide, it can contain some form of ammonia residue. Small amounts of ammonia consumption is not a serious condition. However, with time the amount can pile up, leading to systematic poisoning and gastric ulcers!

  • Direct Skin Contact

Ammonia is thoroughly used in homes and offices as a cleaning agent. Moreover, it is used for draining and unclogging pipes. As pipes contain a stubborn form of sludge and organic waste, the concentration of ammonia used is high and in the form of solid crystals called anhydrous ammonia.

If a person is not careful and accidentally comes into contact with anhydrous ammonia, he may suffer skin burns and lesions. Therefore, it is always recommended to use gloves and proper sitting while handling harmful chemicals like ammonia, especially when they are in concentrated form. Moreover, store them in a place inaccessible to children.

How Does Hydrogen Peroxide Neutralize Ammonia – The Chemical Reaction

The oxidation of ammonia is one of the most basic of chemical reactions. As ammonia is an industrially important chemical, its oxidation process is extensively studied.

However, it is to be noted that this process is not artificial or industrially made. Instead, the oxidation of ammonia is one of the most fundamental processes in nature. The oxidation process of ammonia can be found throughout nature, in plants and bacteria alike!

Ammonia Oxidation as a Biological Process – The Evidence

Plants require nitrogen to grow. Nitrogen is the primary component of amino acids which are the building blocks of protein and enzymes. However, unlike human beings, plants cannot get protein and nitrogen in the form of meat.

Therefore, plants are dependent on bacteria and fertilizers for the delivery of nitrogen. The fertility of the soil is judged by the number of nitrogen-fixing bacteria it contains. These bacteria are responsible for converting standard forms of nitrogen, e.g., atmospheric nitrogen (N2) and ammonia (NH3). The surrounding air and decomposing organic matter are two of the most important sources of nitrogen for bacteria.

Bacteria like azotobacter and Nitrobacter do just that. They convert irrelevant forms of nitrogen into plant-suitable forms, e.g., nitrates (NO3-). This is because the plant roots can absorb nitrates effectively. Therefore, only those plants which have a symbiotic bacterial colony or good fertilizers can grow properly.

As you may have judged from the above formula, ammonia is oxidized into nitrates. Therefore, the oxidation of ammonia can be found all around nature!

Why Ammonia Undergo Oxidation

Now that we know how vital the oxidation of ammonia is, we can move on to the nitty-gritty of it.

If you look at the structure of ammonia, it contains one nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms. The base atoms, e.g., nitrogen, have a pair of lone electrons that can act as a proton acceptor. This shows the basicity of ammonia.

Under heat and aqueous conditions, ammonia releases its hydrogen to form an ion, and catalytic oxygen (provided by hydrogen peroxide) can react with the ammonia ion, inducing oxidation.

The Steps Involved

The oxidation of ammonia is a seven-step process called the Ostwald’s process. However, for the sake of simplicity, we have broken it down into two steps: ion formation and oxidation.

The first step has already been discussed. For the second step, the presence of hydrogen peroxide is essential as it provides the catalytic oxygen, which induces the oxidation process. Contrary to this, the hydrogen peroxide oxidation process is a long and strenuous process that can only be done in the presence of reactive metals like platinum in the industries.

After coming into contact with water and light, hydrogen peroxide dissociates into water and oxygen. Some of this oxygen reacts with the ammonium ion and replaces hydrogen atoms with oxygens. And some of the ions react with water to form nitric acid.

The Final Product

After the process is complete, the toxic ammonia is replaced by mild nitric acid and associated nitric oxide ions.

Although the solution is mildly corrosive, it’s a lot safer than regular ammonia gas and liquid, which exist in the form of volatile vapors.

It is to be noted that oxidation of ammonia should only be carried out in the presence of an expert, with proper safety precautions.

Treating Ammonia-Contaminated Water Using Hydrogen Peroxide

Now that we know hydrogen peroxide can be readily used for oxidizing ammonia, how can we apply it practically?

As mentioned above, ammonia is one of the most abundant byproducts of organic and industrial waste. Moreover, it contaminates water and promotes bacterial growth. So, how effective is hydrogen peroxide in treating the wastewater containing hydrogen peroxide?

Unfortunately, experts say that the ammonium ion (formed by ammonia inside the water) is highly resistant to all types of oxidant therapies except for active halogen therapies. So how hydrogen peroxide fits into this puzzle? As it turns out, hydrogen peroxide cannot wholly treat wastewater from ammonia by itself. However, it can increase the efficiency of other cleaning agents!

According to research, hydrogen peroxide can be effectively used for the treatment plan of wastewater by increasing the oxygen content of the wastewater. By using hydrogen peroxide, researchers found out that the total oxygen content of the wastewater significantly increased. In addition, the increased oxygen saturation inside the water further enhanced the oxidation and precipitation of ammonia into harmless byproducts.

Moreover, another paper found out that by using hydrogen peroxide in the bromide-treatment of wastewater, harmful bromate ion formation was significantly reduced! This means that hydrogen peroxide not only leads to a better wastewater treatment but also limits the formation of associated byproducts, which may be toxic!

Points to Consider While Using Hydrogen Peroxide for Ammonia Treatment

So the take-away from all of this discussion is, although hydrogen peroxide can not remove ammonia from wastewater itself, it can act as an excellent auxiliary during its treatment.

Hydrogen peroxide is a powerful oxidizing agent that can oxidize a wide variety of compounds like phenols, sulfites, sulfides, benzene too. However, ammonia is very stubborn when it comes to oxidizing. In addition, conditions like high pH and heat are required to properly oxidize it, both of which wastewater can’t offer.

However, hydrogen peroxide can create conditions that let halogen-containing cleaning agents do their job better. Moreover, they help to clean the wastewater by disinfecting the bacteria and germs present in it. This not only makes water safer to use but also removes the nasty odor that bacteria produce.

What Concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide Works Best to Treat Ammonia?

Hydrogen peroxide comes in all types of concentrations. Some are compatible with human use, e.g., 0.5%-3% hydrogen peroxide, and some are essential industrial raw materials with 30-90% hydrogen peroxide.

However, for treating ammonia using hydrogen peroxide, you should aim for a 6% hydrogen peroxide concentration. Although the 3% hydrogen peroxide concentration will work just fine too, during stubborn oxidizing procedures (as seen with ammonia), stronger hydrogen peroxide is required.

A higher 6% hydrogen peroxide can give you an effective oxidizing agent without compromising safety protocols!

Safety Precautions You Must Take While Handling Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a safe chemical to use. It has been historically used to clean all types of wounds as well as disinfect household surfaces. But like with all things, it may get messy if you are not careful with it.

The first thing you should keep in mind while handling hydrogen peroxide is not to let it stay on your skin. Hydrogen peroxide is relatively safe during short periods (like cleaning wounds); however, if you don’t wash it off after 5-10 minutes, it may start to irritate your skin. Hence, make sure to wash hydrogen peroxide off after its usage.

Moreover, if you use a hydrogen peroxide concentration of higher than 3%, using gloves and goggles is a safe bet!

It goes without saying but keep hydrogen peroxide away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. Ingesting a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide can lead to irritation and adverse side effects!

When it comes to storage, keep hydrogen peroxide bottles in the darkroom away from sunlight. Moreover, keep the cap of the hydrogen peroxide bottle tightly closed as small amounts of air can cause a reaction.

Last but not least, make sure to check the expiry date on the hydrogen peroxide bottles. On a general note, unopened bottles of hydrogen peroxide can last up to 3 years. However, after opening, this period significantly reduces to 6 months or less!

Conclusion

When it comes to toxic waste, ammonia is the king of byproducts. It is prevalent in wastewater that contains organic and industrial wastes. And the worst part about it is, it is incredibly stubborn!

High concentrations of ammonia in liquids or gases can lead to eye irritation, gastric ulcers, skin lesions, breathing problems, and even systemic toxicity. Moreover, there is no antidote for treating ammonia poisoning except for managing the symptoms.

However, hydrogen peroxide can play its part effectively by managing wastewater treatment. The use of hydrogen peroxide in wastewater enhances the working of halogen agents and reduces the number of toxic byproducts formed in the process.

Find out more about what else hydrogen peroxide can do here!

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