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Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Exposure to Ammonia during Removal of Paint from Artificial Turf -- Ohio

Complaints of respiratory and conjunctival irritation were reported among workers using anhydrous ammonia to remove painted lines from artificial turf at a sports stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. About five times each year, when professional baseball and football seasons overlap, lines on the playing field must be altered repeatedly to accommodate the use of the stadium for both sports. In August 1983, investigators from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) evaluated the symptoms reported by the workers (1). The investigators interviewed 26 workers about symptoms associated with the paint-removal procedure and collected air samples to measure airborne exposures to ammonia during such operations.

Of 26 workers interviewed, 25 (96.2%) reported "burning eyes," 18 (69.2%) "nasal congestion," and 16 (61.5%) "acute shortness of breath" during the paint-removal operation. Although NIOSH-certified respirators were available, the respirators were old, poorly maintained, and used sporadically. No formal respiratory protection program was followed. Few workers were observed wearing gloves and goggles.

Results of tests for ammonia on 18 samples of air from the personal-breathing-zones of workers revealed that time-weighted-average (TWA) concentrations ranged from 11.9 parts per million (ppm) to 52.4 ppm. The current Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard for ammonia establishes a permissible exposure limit at 50 ppm expressed as a TWA (2). The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists has recommended that TWA concentrations of ammonia be less than 25 ppm (3).

Mean short-term (15-minute) exposures were much higher than the TWAs for workers who used buffers to remove the lines after anhydrous ammonia was applied; the average short-term exposure was 90 ppm, and the maximum exceeded 300 ppm for workers who actually applied ammonia. NIOSH recommends that short-term exposures to ammonia not exceed 50 ppm (4).

Based on these observations, the investigators recommended that a more dilute solution of aqueous ammonia (reduced from 20% to 8%) be used to remove the lines (these recommendations are in accordance with those of the artificial turf manufacturer). NIOSH also recommended that appropriate protective equipment for the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract be provided and that workers be properly trained in the use of such equipment. Reported by the Hazard Evaluations and Technical Assistance Br, Div of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Ammonia is a severe irritant of the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin. Acute exposure to high concentrations of ammonia gas may produce severe burns of the cornea and skin; splashing liquid ammonia into the eyes has caused blindness (5). Repeated exposure may cause chronic irritation of the conjunctivae and upper respiratory tract (4).

The major hazard found in this investigation was the short-term exposure of workers to high concentrations (over 300 ppm) of ammonia. By diluting the ammonia and using appropriate protective equipment, this problem is preventable.


  1. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Health hazard evaluation report no. HETA 83-381-1411. Cincinnati, Ohio: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1984.

  2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA safety and health standards. 29 CFR 1910.1000. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, revised 1980.

  3. American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. Threshold limit values for chemical substances and physical agents in the workroom environment with intended changes for 1982. Cincinnati, Ohio: American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, 1982.

  4. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Criteria for a recommended standard: occupational exposure to ammonia. Cincinnati, Ohio: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1974. DHEW publication no. (NIOSH) 74-136.

  5. Proctor NH, Hughes JP. Chemical hazards of the workplace. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott Company, 1978.

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