Ammonia is a colorless and odorless gas and is lighter than air. It is a compound made of nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3). It is biologically active and it easily dissolves in water thus referred to as liquid ammonia or ammonia solution. I was wondering which is the best method of removing ammonia from drinking water. I did a quick research and this is what I found.
How to remove ammonia from drinking water. You can effectively remove ammonia from drinking water using any of the following methods: distillation, chlorination, ion exchange and Nitrification. Let’s dig deeper and look at each of these methods in detail.
Removing ammonia from drinking water.
To some levels, ammonia is present in almost all waters. Although most of the methods used to get rid of ammonia are either unavailable or unaffordable for residential use, the following are some of the effective methods I recommend.
- Distillation- is effective because the extreme temperatures efficiently volatilize free ammonia to give standard drinking water.
- Chlorination- chlorine as an oxidizing agent is added at higher levels above the breakpoint to react with nitrogen compounds found in water.
- Ion exchange- natural resins such as clinoptilolite (though expensive to use) or artificial resins can be used in a softening treatment process founded on ammonium ion exchange in the water with sodium ions confined in the resin. Any other cation which might be present in the water can also be removed using this method.
- Nitrification- this is a biological filtration practice using aerobic as well as autotrophic bacteria to convert ammonium to nitrite ion and nitrates products important for plant growth. To achieve this process high amount of oxygen is required, nutrients for bacterial growth such as phosphorus should be present, optimum pH (greater than 7.5), lack of disinfectants and above all sufficient high temperatures are necessary.
How does ammonia get into the water
- The chemical breakdown of food – in other terms it is stated as metabolism where food rich in proteins and amino acids are broken down. The bacteria present in the digestive duct also break down some other food nutrients to give out ammonia.
- Atmospheric ammonia- very low amounts of inhaled ammonia gets into the lungs because it rapidly dissolves in water thus the nasal linings dissolve any trace of inhaled ammonia.
- Industrial applications and agricultural use from nitrogenous fertilizer, decaying organic matter as well as fecal substances.
- Cigarette smoking.
- Water- ammonia is naturally found in water as some aquatic life like fish directly excrete it into the water as a waste product. It becomes a contaminant if its concentration is higher than natural levels of 0.1milligrams per liter. This makes the basis of my study on how to remove ammonia as a contaminant in drinking water. But before I get there let me discourse on the potential health effects of ammonia (both the benefits and shortcomings) and how it gets into our drinking water.
what is ammonia used for
- In agricultural production, ammonia is used in fertilizer processing and the manufacture of animal fodder. In addition, it is used in the production of fibers, plastics, paper, rubber, and explosives.
- It acts as a coolant in metal processing and as a raw material for compounds containing nitrogen.
- In the food industry, it is used as stabilizers, acid regulators, aids in flavoring and fermentation. An example is ammonium chloride used as a diuretic.
- For healthy plant growth, ammonia contains nitrogen as an important nutrient since bacteria break down ammonia to nitrite (NO2) and nitrate (NO3).
- In combination with other nutrients such as phosphate, nitrogen is an important ingredient in the control of algal growth.
- Due to the decay of plants and animals besides excretion of animals nitrogen is regenerated back into the aquatic life during the nitrogen cycle.
- In humans, ammonia is used in the maintenance of optimum pH balance in order to endure life.
How is Ammonia Dangerous
Ammonia if left to accumulate to higher levels than normal is toxic to both plants and animals.
The following are the possible shortcomings.
- On humans, it is an irritant to eyes, the respiratory tract and the skin although there is no long term ill effects shown by the limited studies done. The amount and the duration of exposure is relative to ill symptoms. It is of concern to note that ammonia exposure is toxic to patients undergoing dialysis treatment.
- On aquatic life, even low levels of ammonia is toxic as it promotes the growth of clogged aqua vegetation that decreases the amount of oxygen required by fish and other aquatic organisms.
What affects the levels of ammonia in the water?
Most of the time ammonia enters into water deliveries as runoff in farmlands where fertilizer is applied and it simply gets into underground aquifers from animal feedlot runoff. Some of the natural causes that affect the amount of ammonia in water include decomposition of plant and animal matter, algal growth, nitrogen cycling, and fecal material either from humans or animals. Furthermore, a crack in a water channel positioned close to a leaking sewage effluent as well as some domestic and industrial processes can also affect the concentration of ammonia. Owing to the above-stated facts it is of significance to regulate the amount of ammonia in drinking water.
From my findings, the concentration of ammonia found in drinking water is not of alarming health risk but acute and chronic exposure can pose a health threat. There are material safety data sheets in each institution dealing with ammonia for personnel to review before handling ammonia. In general if one can bear the odor of ammonia in the open without severe reaction, then the levels indicate no danger to health even if it irritates.
In conclusion, tolerance intensities for ammonia differ widely from one individual to another. It is for this reason that those people with respiratory complications ought to take keen precautions as they might be more sensitive to exposure.