Ammonia Air Pollution


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).

Particulate matter (PM) is a generic term for particles in the air that hover there for a while, i.e. do not immediately sink to the ground. Depending on their size, they are divided into different classes: PM10, PM2.5 and PM0.1. The number indicates the aerodynamic diameter of the particles in micrometers. The precursor gases of particulate matter, including ammonia, react in the atmosphere with other inorganic substances and form floating particles. Due to higher exhaust emissions and the poorer supply of fresh air, the level of particulate matter pollution is usually especially high in cities.

A Small Molecule with Big Effects on Health

According to the WHO (World Health Organization) a non-hazardous lower limit for fine dust concentrations does not exist. Still, country-specific limits are exceeded many times over on countless days each year.

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.

Too Much Nitrogen Harms the Environment

Ammonia is a precursor gas of particulate matter. Not only humans are affected negatively by it, but the environment also suffers considerably. Ammonia is a molecule that contains three hydrogen atoms as well as nitrogen. Actually, nitrogen is a basic building block for protein and chlorophyll; it is a prerequisite for plants to be able to thrive.


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.

Reduction of Ammonia Requires Reliable Measurement Technology

Ammonia is now produced on a large industrial scale, up to 125 million tons annually. Its production consumes about 3% of the world's energy.

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.