Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Tanks of farmers' fertilizer nabbed

Chemicals are being used in meth labs

By Amanda York
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The bumper crop of methamphetamine laboratories has prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue an advisory to farmers to keep an eye on their fertilizer tanks.

        Susan Feld, a spokeswoman the DEA's Detroit office, said the advisory warns farmers about the possibility of abusers stealing anhydrous ammonia, a liquid fertilizer used by corn and soy bean farmers.

        Several Ohio communities — including Batavia, Waynesville and Wilmington — have already experienced reported thefts of the liquid fertilizer that is a key component to methamphetamines' manufacture.

        The method in which anhydrous ammonia is used is known as the “Nazi method,” made famous by Nazi Germany during World War II when the Germans would administer methamphetamines to their soldiers to fight fatigue, said Richard Cerniglia, the resident agent in charge for the Cincinnati DEA office.

        The stimulant, which can be easily made with items purchased at almost any convenience store, has made an increased appearance in the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area.

        A meth lab bust May 31 at the Motel 6 on Dream Street in Florence was the 46th of such busts since October, Mr. Cerniglia said.

        Anhydrous ammonia was one of the meth components used in the lab at the motel, said Jim Paine, the director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.

Farmers weigh in
               But farmers in Northern Kentucky say anhydrous ammonia doesn't work well with the area's soil, so they don't use it for farming. Bob Schwenke, with Schwenke Brothers' Farm in Boone County, said the soil in this area is too light and sandy. For anhydrous ammonia to work, Mr. Schwenke said, the soil must be more of a “heavy, clay-based soil.”

        Although farmers in Northern Kentucky haven't had to deal with the theft of anhydrous ammonia, farmers in parts of Western Kentucky and Ohio have.

        In Western Kentucky, an area that has seen the abuse of methamphetamines spread in epidemic proportions, narcotics officials say they've been working with farmers and distributors of anhydrous ammonia for quite some time.

        Cheyenne Albro, the director of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force, said they kept a close watch on areas where anhydrous ammonia tanks were stored. Mr. Albro said the surveillance had proven successful and that several people had been apprehended.

        The fertilizer sells for as much as $400 a gallon on the black market in Western Kentucky and is sometimes stored in propane gas grill tanks in parts of Ohio.

Ohio thefts reported
               Mark Anthony, communications director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said communities such as Pleasant Plain, Eaton, Mechanicsburg, Springfield, Batavia, Wilmington and Hillsboro reported thefts.

        It's a problem in Highland County, Ohio, said Sergeant Chris Bowen, whereabusers had been stealing the compound from farmers in the area.

        Companies that distribute the product to farmers aren't taking any chances either. Bill Chokran, plant manager for Royster-Clark in Cincinnati, said the company has annual meetings with truckers who transport the material.

        “They (truckers) are well aware of the possible theft of this ammonia for drug use,” Mr. Chokran said.

        Police in Defiance County have also had to deal with anhydrous ammonia thefts. Lt. Bill Woods said one of the biggest problems facing farmers in the area is that they don't realize some of the ammonia has been stolen.

        Because of the increase in meth labs, Mr. Woods said, the Defiance County Sheriff's Department sent two officers to Houston, Texas, for specialized training that's needed in order for them to handle the labs.

        “It just keeps getting worse and worse,” he said.

New Ohio law
               Mr. Woods says he hopes a recently passed law will help solve the problem. At the 124th Ohio General Assembly regular session, House Bill 7 was adopted. The bill enhances penalties and added “the possession of chemicals for the manufacture of drugs” as a new offense.

        Because of the absence of anhydrous ammonia in Northern Kentucky, many officials expect to see the product become a much sought after item on the black market.

Black market watch
               Mr. Albro said that because the ammonia was so plentiful in Western Kentucky eventually it will be transported and sold in parts of Northern and Eastern Kentucky.

        Transporting the drug can be dangerous, Mr. Albro said. In Western Kentucky, he said thieves store the product, which is highly flammable, in improper containers such as fire extinguishers, coolers and oxygen bottles. The ammonia is extremely sensitive to temperature, he said, and could explode very easily.

        “Containers can explode just by sitting there,” he said.


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