It is estimated that almost 9 million people worldwide die each year as a result of air pollution. The particulate matter in the air we breathe is a major contributor to this. Particulate matter contains various precursor gases, including ammonia (NH3).
Depending on the size of the fine dust particles, they can enter the human body through the lungs and even reach the bloodstream. How dangerous these particles are for our health depends on their chemical composition. Short-term, heavy exposure to particulate matter can cause acute symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath or asthma attacks. Long-term damage, even with low but permanent exposure, can result in cardiovascular diseases and even lung cancer. Thus, particulate matter and air pollution in general contribute significantly to the most frequent causes of death.
Initially, this sounds very positive. However, the amount of nitrogen is crucial. In agriculture, nitrogen is often used as a fertilizer to accelerate the growth of plants. If too much of fertilizer based on ammonia or pure nitrogen ends up in the environment, it can lead to excessive nutrient input - also called eutrophication. This phenomenon is particularly well known in the case of aquatic environments, where excessive nutrient supply leads to the formation of algae. However, ammonia can also harm plants directly if it is absorbed by the leaves. It can have toxic effects and lead to plants and crops dying.
The main consumer of this large quantity is agriculture, where it is used as a raw material for nitrogen fertilizers. Due to this massive input, excess nitrogen enters our groundwater through the soil. Although ammonia also occurs naturally on our planet, it does so in much smaller quantities. In the organisms of humans and anmials ammonia is formed during the digestion of amino acids and discharged with feces. Dangerously high concentrations are formed in this process, especially in industrial livestock farming and manure tanks. Ammonia volatilizes and is released directly into the environment trough the air. Ammonia concentrations that are harmless to humans and the environment are in the lower ppm range, but measured values far exceed this. In order to identify the emission sources and consequently reduce the ammonia produced, reliable measurement technology is needed for the smallest traces of ammonia. Axetris' laser gas detection modules can measure ammonia down to the sub-ppm range, all without cross interference from other gases that are mainly present in agriculture.