Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Theft of Anhydrous Ammonia

While there has yet to be a documented terrorist attack on a chemical facility in the United States (knock on wood) there are relatively routine thefts of anhydrous ammonia from rural and small town storage sites. These thefts are not driven by terrorism, but by the illicit manufacture of methamphetamines.

While that is reason enough for concern, there have also been a number of significant releases of anhydrous ammonia over the last couple of years associated with these thefts. A recent article on the CourierPress.com site points out a new tool to help prevent these thefts and their associated potential releases of a dangerous PIH chemical. The news story tells about a recent theft of anhydrous ammonia from a small town chemical facility in Epworth, IL. The sheriff notes that the perpetrators may be easy to identify because at least one of the anhydrous storage tanks that was hit was treated with a chemical dye. Furthermore, any attempt to manufacture methamphetamines with that anhydrous ammonia will result in a visibly off-spec product that will be difficult to market.

The development and marketing of this dye is an anti-drug effort by GloTell Distributors out of Washington Court House, OH. Developed in cooperation of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale, the dye is added to agricultural or cooling system grade anhydrous ammonia. The dye stays in the liquid phase of the material and stains almost any object a brilliant pink when the dye comes in contact with the air. The dye is biodegradable and the visible color disappears in about 72 hours, though it is still detectable under UV light for another 48 hours.

In addition to marking the thieves, the GloTell dye stays in the methamphetamine produced with the marked anhydrous ammonia. In addition to making the product pink it makes it very difficult to dry the methamphetamine, making the illegal drug slimy and almost impossible to smoke. This combination should make it more difficult to sell the street drug. While this technology may not be very useful in stopping someone that wants to use anhydrous ammonia as a potential weapon, it does show how the proper combination of ingenuity and cooperative development can come up with unusual solutions to security problems.

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