Our Chemical Burn Experience: Exposing the Dangers of Anhydrous Ammonia

J Burn Care Rehabil. May-Jun 1999;20(3):226-31. doi: 10.1097/00004630-199905000-00013.


Although chemical injuries account for only a small number of one burn unit's cases, the diversity, resulting complications, and sequelae of these burns pose special problems. We reviewed a 19-year period of the chemical burn experience of our burn unit. The population of patients with these types of burns consisted of young men (mean age: 29.8 years), the majority of whom were injured on the job. Unique to our series is the largest collection of injuries (30%) resulting from the common fertilizer anhydrous ammonia. Another population of concern, accounting for 14% of the injuries in our unit, is that of patients injured at home with routine household cleaners. Nearly one half of those patients injured at home incurred injuries that required grafting. The cornerstone of chemical burn prevention and treatment involves education regarding the caustic nature of chemicals, proper handling, adequate protection, and copious irrigation of the wound at the scene. From the analysis of our retrospective review, adequate education and treatment at the scene appear to be well implemented in the industrial and farming communities. The focus of our education efforts should be directed toward the public and emphasize the safe use of household chemicals. Finally our review illuminated the potential benefit of immediate excision and grafting for decreasing the length of stay, complications, and loss of productivity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ammonia / adverse effects*
  • Burn Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Burns, Chemical / epidemiology*
  • Burns, Chemical / etiology
  • Burns, Chemical / surgery
  • Female
  • Fertilizers / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Transplantation / statistics & numerical data
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Fertilizers
  • Ammonia