Issue 61
Prairie Grains

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Prairie Grains is the official publication of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, North Dakota Grain Growers Association, Montana Grain Growers Association and South Dakota Wheat, Inc.

Copyright Prairie Grains Magazine
May2004

Anhydrous Additive Developed to Curb Meth

Product could be commercially available by fall, but will be only one step in a multi-faceted approach needed to solve this national problem.

Researchers at Iowa State University have developed an additive to be mixed with anhydrous ammonia to help repel its use for producing methamphetamine.

“Meth,” as the highly addictive illegal stimulant is commonly called, has become a national problem in urban and rural areas.  Anhydrous ammonia is an ingredient used to make the drug, and the fertilizer industry has been searching for a means of deterring thieves from tampering with anhydrous ammonia tanks.

Chemistry researchers at ISU have been researching anti-meth additives for the past few years.  Four compounds have been found to be very promising, and one in particular has advanced through testing and is close to commercialization.

Security surrounding the additives research is understandably tight; even the names of scientists involved with the project are kept under wraps to keep them safe from criminal activity aimed at blocking the research.

“Desperate people can do desperate things,” says Ed Beaman, president and CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa. Beaman’s group is part of a task force that includes The Fertilizer Institute, Agricultural Retailers Association, and others cooperating in an effort to develop an anti-meth anhydrous additive. “We’re really anxious to get this problem off the backs of agriculture,” says Beaman.

The advanced anhydrous ammonia additive close to commercialization is made from a natural compound already used in the greenhouse industry, and can be used in the form of a liquid or dry mixable substance.  Lab and field tests show that the additive is not agronomically or environmentally harmful.  It also doesn’t damage anhydrous equipment.  “There’s no problem with rust or expansion, and it’s proven stable in the tank,” says Beaman. “It’s put in the tank much the same as a nitrogen stabilizer or nitrification inhibitor.”

The additive, when tank-mixed with anhydrous ammonia, dramatically reduces the yield and quality of meth desired on the street. It was secretly put to the test out in the field, at several ag suppliers in Iowa that have had a problem with anhydrous tanks being raided for meth.  Two tanks were placed side by side; one with the additive, one without. Meth makers broke into the tank with the additive, but left that tank alone after finding out that the anhydrous ammonia with the additive didn’t give them the results they were after.  “The DCI (Iowa’s Department of Criminal Investigation) has people out on the street, and we heard back that it got (meth makers’) attention, that there was something wrong with that anhydrous.”

It was also evaluated in a DCI lab in Virginia.  “We wanted to see how it would do outside of the state under possible different meth ‘recipes.’ We told the Virginia lab, ‘put your best scientist on this to try to defeat the positive effects this compound is having.’”  The Virginia evaluation was completed just recently, and indications are that the tests confirm the additive’s effectiveness in reducing the purity and yield of meth production.

It’s possible the additive could make its way into commercial fertilizer channels as early as this fall.  Actually, a good time to roll out the additive might be after the growing season is over. Beaman points out that most theft of anhydrous occurs in the off-season. With anhydrous tanks in use, “it’s usually too busy during the growing season for the meth guys to steal.”

There are several questions to be resolved before the additive is released commercially, however. It’s not known yet at what point in the fertilizer delivery system the additive will be distributed, if its use is mandated (like an odorant is in natural gas) or remains voluntary, what the cost will be, and how the production and distribution cost of the additive will be handled.  Beaman speculates cost might be about $1 or 75 cents/acre, more or less depending on the quantity of the additive produced.  It’s possible federal funding might be obtained, or diverted from current meth-fighting efforts, to help pay for an additive program.

The ultimate goal is to have several additives in use. “In the future there may be as many as five different compounds to use to randomize the additives out there. That way it will be harder for (meth makers) to figure out which one is being used.”

Still, an additive alone won’t stop the production of meth.  “They’ll switch to different ingredients,” says Beaman. “This needs to be part of a multi-faceted approach to a problem on both main street and rural America that needs to be solved.”

What Farmers Should Know About Meth
Meth use and production is increasing rapidly in North Dakota and the Upper Midwest. Michael Ness, Bureau of Criminal Investigation for the N.D. Office of the Attorney General, reports that meth samples tested by the State Crime Lab have increased from 65 tests in 1993 to 2,419 in 2002. Seizure of meth labs has increased from three in 1995 to 297 labs in 2003. Ness also reports that 99% of labs seized in 2002 used anhydrous ammonia as an ingredient, and that 59% of the labs were located in rural areas. 

Meth is a derivative of amphetamine and is a powerful and addictive central nervous system stimulant.  It can be swallowed, smoked, injected, snorted, or inhaled.  Meth increases energy and alertness causing an almost immediate intense rush where the brain releases high levels of dopamine, a chemical that controls the feeling of pleasure.  Users of the drug can stay awake for several days without eating, leading to severe weight loss, convulsions, dangerously high body temperatures, shaking, insomnia, cardiac arrest, and stroke. Chronic users suffer from psychotic behaviors including extreme paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and violent mood swings. Addiction doesn’t discriminate by age, race, sex, or class.

Meth can be produced cheaply and easily with household items in makeshift labs that fit in a small box or cooler.  Labs are found in homes, motel rooms, abandoned buildings, storage garages, and vehicles. Cookers favor rural areas because of the difficulty of law enforcement over large areas, and access to anhydrous ammonia, a key meth ingredient.  Other items used in production may include over-the-counter cold medicines containing ephedrine or psuedoephedrine, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaners, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, antifreeze, iodine, and acetone, none of which are illegal or difficult to purchase.  A new law in N.D. does limit the sale of ephedrine or psuedoephedrine to two packages with less than three grams per package (NDHB 1353, effective 04-08-03).

The most common method of meth production requires the use of anhydrous ammonia, which creates a more “pure” form of meth, but is something meth cookers can’t buy or access easily.

Meth labs are highly dangerous and toxic and have a severe impact on the environment. Due to the nature of ingredients, labs are often explosive, create toxic fumes, spills, and fire, posing significant risk to cookers, anyone who finds labs, law enforcement, and emergency personnel.  One pound of meth production creates poisonous gases and five to seven pounds of toxic waste which is usually dumped in fields, ditches, yards, on rural roads, or down household drains. Cookers often have these toxic materials in old cook labs in water jugs, coolers, boxes, glass jars, and other canisters.

Since meth cookers need anhydrous ammonia, farmers should be aware of steps they can take to protect their families from violence and the theft of anhydrous ammonia. Cookers need a small amount of anhydrous ammonia, usually enough from draining tank hoses without opening tanks. They may fill a small water cooler, jar, or at most use small propane tanks if they steal from the anhydrous tank.

To decrease the chance of anhydrous theft on your property, experts recommend tanks be stored in lighted, open areas and near roads where thefts are less likely.  Keeping tanks in fenced and locked areas or using valve locks is the best protection.  Because of the potential for violence, don’t store tanks too close to your home or backyard.

Tanks should be stored with valve positions facing the road. “Rings” in the soil or snow left from the impression made by small propane tanks may be evidence of tank tampering.  Experts advise farmers not to get anhydrous ammonia tanks until they need them and to return them as soon as they are finished applying the fertilizer.

Farmers should be watchful of meth waste dump sites, which may include boxes, coolers, glass jars, batteries, or other product containers in ditches and on farmland. Never touch or smell suspected containers. It’s important to educate unsuspecting and curious children about these dangers as well.

Talk to neighbors about suspicious activity or materials.  Farmers are encouraged to watch out for each other, their equipment, and their farmsteads, especially when someone isn’t at home or lives off the farm.

If you suspect any drug activity, call your local law enforcement office, county sheriff, or the N.D. Bureau of Criminal Investigation drug hotline at 800-472-2185.  If you suspect someone you know is using meth, call the drug abuse hotline at 800-642-6042.  More information can be obtained online at www.ag.state.nd.us/BCI/Meth/Meth.htm .

Signs of Meth Activity
A common strategy thieves use is to find unsecured nurse tanks and storage facilities where they can bleed off a few gallons of anhydrous into an empty gas grill container or other storage device. Farmers, dealers and all who are concerned about the theft of anhydrous ammonia for the manufacture of illegal drugs should watch for the following:

•  Partially opened tank valves and/or leaking tanks;

•  Common items associated with and often left behind after theft including buckets, coolers, duct tape, garden hoses and bicycle inner tubes;

•  The presence of unfamiliar or suspicious-looking individuals during daylight hours (thieves often check out the property beforehand);

•  Signs of meth labs including strong odors, blacked-out windows (to obstruct observation) and large amounts of trash.

Preventing Anhydrous Ammonia Theft

•  Be alert. Keep an eye out for unfamiliar or suspicious persons attempting to purchase anhydrous ammonia from you or your neighbors.

•  Don’t leave tanks unattended for long periods of time.

•  Position tanks in open high traffic areas where they can be easily seen from the road.

•  Return tanks immediately after use.

•  Do not store tanks and toolbars inside buildings, in livestock containment houses or near the farm house.

•  Inspect and record the condition of nurse tanks upon delivery, again, after use and upon return to the dealer.

•  Immediately report releases to local police and/or emergency responders.

Do not approach or confront individuals you suspect may be involved in meth activity. Thieves may be under the influence of meth and may become dangerously violent with very little warning.  Simply call local law enforcement authorities.

Source: The Fertilizer Institute