Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Time ripe for ammonia theft

By Jon Gambrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - As temperatures rise, so does the possibility of anhydrous ammonia theft as Tristate farmers work their fields.

Anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine, is used by many farmers as a fertilizer.

John Burke, commander of the Warren-Clinton County Drug and Strategic Operations Task Force, said thieves look for opportunities to take tanks held by individual farmers.

"They steal it (anhydrous ammonia) from tanks right off of the fields," Burke said. "A lot of thefts are not noticed and some farmers may not know it happened."

Steve Bartels, agent for the Butler County Ohio State University Extension office, said anhydrous ammonia thefts are a growing concern for farmers.

"Up until five years ago, no one had even heard of it," he said. "This is a recent phenomenon."

Using propane tanks similar to those used on grills, thieves will unload anhydrous from larger storage tanks.

Only a small amount is taken from the large tank, making it hard for a farmer to notice the theft.

From there, the drug is "cooked," using a variety of other ingredients.

Sometimes, thieves cut hose to siphon off the anhydrous ammonia, a telltale sign of a theft, according to Burke. This is often the only sign that a theft has taken place.

The "cooking" process is extremely dangerous, because amateur chemists are involved. Several Southwest Ohio meth labs have exploded.

As concerns over anhydrous ammonia thefts continue, Tristate law enforcement continues to search for suspected methamphetamine labs.

Last month, a search warrant was served by the task force on a possible meth lab at River Bluff Estates in South Lebanon. Charges have yet to be filed.

Also this spring, Preble County sheriff's deputies raided what Detective Dean Miller described as their first possible meth lab.

He said Preble County also had anhydrous ammonia thefts in recent years.

Detective Monte Mayerof the Butler County Sheriff's Office said recently that there hadn't been any reported thefts of anhydrous ammonia in the county this year.


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