Measurement and Testing
Why Ammonia Monitoring Matters for the Environment
Jun 28 2021
Ammonia is packed with plant-friendly nutrients and is a key component in fertilisers, though despite its agricultural benefits the stable binary hydride is also a major environmental threat. NH3 emissions can increase air pollution, fast-track soil acidification and destabilise sensitive ecosystems. Below, we explore some of the core reasons why monitoring ammonia levels matters.
Released into the atmosphere through agricultural and industrial activity, ammonia is a significant contributor to air pollution. The nitrogen/hydrogen compound reacts with other airborne pollutants to create ammonium salts, ultra-fine particles that can irritate the respiratory tract, damage the lungs and create breathing difficulties.
While ammonia-based fertilisers provide plants with the building blocks they need to thrive, they’re also major drivers of soil acidification. Bacteria in soil converts the nitrogen and hydrogen ions found in NH3 and releases them into the soil, where they’re either taken up by plants in the root zone or lost through leaching. This prevents the plant from releasing a hydroxide ion to bind with a hydrogen ion, which can lead to soil acidification.
Direct toxic damage to leaves
Ammonia interacts with moisture to create ammonium hydroxide, a caustic liquid chemical that can burn leaves and foliage. This can occur when large concentrations of gaseous ammonia are released into the atmosphere from animal waste or fertiliser runoff. Wind can then disturb these ammonia clouds and transport them to nearby fields and forests, where NH3 can settle on foliage and cause caustic burns. Ammonia clouds can be a danger to both natural forests and established crops.
Altered susceptibility to drought, frost and pests
Exposure to ammonia can alter the natural susceptibility of plants to stressors such as drought, frost and pests. High levels of NH3 can also increase vulnerability to pathogens and invasive species, making ammonia monitoring essential to the agricultural industry.
The costs of ammonia emissions
Despite its value to the global agriculture and industrial sectors, ammonia remains a pressing environmental concern. The compound has the capacity to damage soil quality, compromise plant health and disturb the natural equilibrium of sensitive ecosystems. Air pollution is another major issue, particularly in agricultural areas. The costs of ammonia emissions are high, with a recent RAND study warning NH3 could cost the UK more than £700 million per year.
Given the risks, there are strict regulations regarding ammonia emissions. This makes monitoring technologies integral to operations at farms, factories and other ammonia-emitting sources. Find out more about the latest technologies being used to monitor NH3, including next-generation laser-based analysers from CI Analytics, in ‘New perspectives in ammonia monitoring.’
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