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By BETH ZUMWALT
It’s been just over seven months since Rick and Eric Williams, a father-son pair, were injured in a farm accident involving anhydrous ammonia.
Rick Williams was in a St. Louis hospital for more than five weeks, while Eric was briefly hospitalized. The elder Williams also spent time in a
Hannibal rehabilitation unit learning basic skills.
“I was flat on my back for all that time,” he said. “I had to get my strength back.”
Anhydrous ammonia is a potentially deadly chemical/fertilizer used in corn production.Exposure to anhydrous ammonia is very dangerous because the gas is a hygroscopic compound that seeks moisture from the nearest source, which can be the moisture-laden tissue of the human body. Exposure of high-moisture-content areas of the body—including eyes, lungs, and mucous membranes—is especially dangerous. Most deaths from anhydrous ammonia are caused by severe damage to the throat and lungs from a direct blast to the face. When large amounts are inhaled, the throat swells shut and victims suffocate. Exposure to vapors or liquid also can cause blindness.
The two Williams were working on the spreader bar of their equipment, readying for the planting season when the accident occurred.
“We thought the lines were empty,”Rick Williams said. “We tried to take it off and it dropped me where i was and knocked Eric backwards, several feet.”
Eric inhaled a minimal amount of the gas and suffered a severe laceration on his head,but was able to get to his father and remove him from the gas’s area.
“I went home for lunch that day and after leaving the house afterwards, I don’t remember a thing,” Rick Williams said. “After lunch and until my last three for four days in the hospital, I don’t remember anything.”
Williams said he is able to help his two sons, Richie and Eric, with the farm work, minimally.
“As long as there is no dust, I’m okay, but I can’t be in the hog barn or anything like that,” he said. “It was an accident. Nobody’s fault, that’s why they call them accidents.”
While recent rainfall has slowed the fall application of anhydrous ammonia, the product can be applied anytime the soil temperature is around 50 degrees. Motorists should be careful about the product being transported on roadways. Always watch for the placard, with the warning sign on the rear and sides of the tanks and give the vehicle a wide berth.
Williams urged all producers to take special care when working with anhydrous ammonia or any other chemical and to know first aid procedures.