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Disease from Ammonia Gas



In many industrial occupations ammonia gas is liberated in free quantities. In the process of felt hat-making shellac is dis solved in a weak solution of ammonia. The felt is then steeped in the solution, and the ammonia, volatilized by heat, charges the atmosphere with its vapor. In other occupations ammonia is liberated in the decomposition of ammoniacal salts. In a third class ammonia is given off from decomposing organic compounds. In all cases the workers are exposed to the ammoniacal gas.

Considerable difference of opinion exists on the question of the harm that is inflicted by the inhalation of ammonia. Some observers have arrived at the conclusion that the gas inflicts no injury, and I am of opinion that the injury is much less than might at first sight be supposed. When, however, the inhalation of ammonia is long continued, certain physical effects result which must be considered injurious. The blood is rendered un duly fluid, the corpuscles of the blood are changed in form and are made crenate, the oxidation of the blood is reduced, and the disease anaemia, which has already been described, is developed.

There are some occupations in which decomposing organic re mains are present, and which yield to the air of the place where the labor is carried on an ammoniacal sulphur odor which is most offensive, and which even taints the clothes and person of the worker. Those who are engaged in the labor of making cat gut strings and cords; those who are engaged in dressing skins into rugs, as fellmongers; and those who act as bone-sorters and boilers are specially subject to these odors. A woman who was engaged in the first of these occupations, and who came to a pub lic dispensary, to which I was physician, for medical advice, was so offensive she could not be tolerated in the waiting-room with the other out-door patients, and she had to come in after all the rest had gone. The odor from the fellmonger's yard and from the bone-boiler's premises is detectable even at long distances from the place. It would be assumed, at first thought, that the operatives, breathing for many hours every day such an atmos phere, must needs suffer from some marked disease. I am bound to say that the evidence in support of this suspicion is all but negative. I have been unable to discover any definite symptom of disease connected with these callings as the result of the labor. Neither can I find any statistical facts that illustrate an unusual mortality from such labor.

labor, occupations, ammoniacal and blood