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Large, commercial refrigeration units that utilize ammonia to maintain the temperature are effective and efficient, but they can be dangerous to work around. Ammonia can be a dangerous, life-threatening substance that can also ignite fires. The flammable, corrosive nature of the substance is the reason behind the leak alarms that these units are equipped with. Unfortunately, these alarms sometimes fail to work as they should. Here, you'll learn how to manually test for any ammonia leaks that your refrigeration unit may have.
Before testing for leaks, you should dress as if there is most definitely a leak somewhere in the system. Wear a respirator, gloves, and safety glasses as you perform the following tests.
Sulfur Stick Test
If you can smell the odor of the ammonia, the sulfur stick test should not be performed. This is because the ammonia is flammable when it's in a liquid form, so if you ignite the sulfur stick with liquid ammonia in the area, you are putting yourself at risk.
If you don't smell the strong presence of ammonia, ignite the wick end of the sulfur stick and carefully walk around the refrigerated area. Watch the smoke coming from the stick. If if produces white smoke, it is detecting leaking ammonia. Mark the location, exit the building immediately, and contact a professional commercial refrigeration service for repairs.
Litmus Paper Test
Litmus paper must be on hand at all times to check for ammonia leaks – this test is the safest and easiest to perform.
Dampen the litmus paper with water. Hold it in the air in front of you as you make your way through the refrigerated area. If the paper begins to turn red, stop, mark the area, and exit the building as quickly as possible. Contact a professional for assistance.
If the exposure to the ammonia is minor, medical treatment may not be required – just get out of the building into the fresh air, flush your eyes, wash your skin, and stay out of the building until repairs are made.
For severe ammonia exposure, you'll need to be seen by a doctor to have chest x-rays taken, as well as urine and blood analyses. This will show the doctor if the ammonia has caused any damage to your internal organs.
Ammonia isn't anything to mess around with, but it does do very well maintain a steady temperature for food being stored in large areas. Contact your local commercial refrigeration expert for any assistance you may need.