Not the Final Solution 

Regarding Clee Paul Ames’ letter [“The Clean Air Final Solution,” Jan. 30, City Weekly], I wanted to set the record straight on pure ammonia gas.

I have met Mr. Ames and agree with him on many issues. I agree that air quality is a huge problem that will require creativity to solve; however, the data on the toxicity of ammonia gas is so overwhelming that, as a chemist, I felt I must share it with your readers.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (easily found on the web), “ammonia is an irritating flammable gas that causes severe eye, skin, and respiratory tract burns. Wear self-contained breathing apparatus when entering release area. Fully protective suits are required in large releases. Symptoms of exposure may include burning sensations, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, headache and nausea, and can also cause central nervous system effects including unconsciousness and convulsions. Upper airway damage is more likely and can result in bronchospasm. Vocal cords are particularly vulnerable to corrosive effects of high concentrations. Death has occurred following a five-minute exposure to an air concentration of 5 parts per thousand.”

If you have ever been overcome with ammonia fumes while cleaning your bathroom, you know what a low concentration of ammonia gas feels like. The first automobile accident involving a ruptured ammonia fuel tank could be catastrophic.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Chinese government (whose lax oversight brought you melamine in baby formula), it’s that safety does not always come first. Let’s put our heads together and come up with the thousand little ways necessary to clean our air, like outlawing refineries and incinerators in our urban valleys.

Matthew Bernart

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