UI burn center warns people of fertilizer dangers

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Doctors at the University of Iowa Burn Treatment Center are worried by a spike in injuries from anhydrous ammonia, a chemical used to fertilize corn crops.

The center usually sees one or two cases of burns in a year, but this spring there have been at least five cases in a matter of weeks, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen (http://icp-c.com/1jvIdqW ).

“We just want to get the safety message out there and remind people that the ramifications can be significant,” said Alison Pauley, nurse manager at the UI burn center.

Hospital staffers said there doesn’t appear to be a clear reason for the jump in cases, which have been farm- or industrial-related accidents. However, officials said people familiar with the chemical can become lax with following safety precautions.

Alice Fagin, a surgeon at the center, said no matter how experienced people are, they need to be careful with the fertilizer because of the severe consequences of an accident.

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” Fagin said. “We want to remind people no matter how comfortable you are with anhydrous ammonia, no matter how long you have been using it, it is still a dangerous chemical. One wrong move, one change in your practice could result in a very significant injury.”

The issue is especially significant now in Iowa because many farmers will apply anhydrous ammonia in the next couple weeks before planting their corn crops.

Exposure to the chemical can cause the throat to swell shut, leading to suffocation. It also can severely damage lungs and cause blindness.

Kevin Kinney, an investigator with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department who also farms, knows the danger of anhydrous ammonia. While making a repair four years ago to a hose connected to an anhydrous ammonia tank, the chemical sprayed his face.

He was wearing safety goggles, gloves and thick clothing but didn’t have lung protection.

“I called 911,” Kenney said. “I could get enough out to say I had been burned and it was anhydrous.”

After extensive treatment, including being placed in a drug-induced coma while doctors treated his lungs, Kinney has recovered. Although he’s used the chemical for more than 30 years, he now realizes he forgot to double-check the hose to ensure it was empty.

“I screwed up,” Kenney said. “I should have drained it better.”

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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