FOREST HILLS, NY – A possible toxic leak of ammonia aboard the International Space Station highlights just how dangerous this common chemical can be, says a New York emergency medicine specialist.
Ammonia, used as a gas in the cooling and heating systems of the space station, is poisonous to breathe.
While most people won’t be taking a trip aboard the orbiting outpost any time soon, they will likely come in contact with ammonia in its liquid form as a household cleaning product.
“It causes eye irritation, burning to the lungs resulting in a condition known as pulmonary edema, as well as pneumonitis, which is inflammation to the lining of the lungs,” said Dr. Guttenberg. “If you ingest it, it can cause burns to the esophagus and severe scarring of the esophagus, which can lead to lifetime issues as well.”
In high enough doses, exposure to fumes from liquid ammonia can be fatal.
The crew evacuated the U.S. section of the space station and moved to the Russian side as a precaution after Mission Control saw pressure changes that raised fears of an ammonia leak.