Propane tanks stolen for meth manufacturing

Photo by Tereasa Nims A  store manager demonstrates how covert and quick people are when forcing their way into the secure propane cages that house both full and empty cylinders. Methamphetamine cooks are reportedly stealing propane tanks, bleeding them of the propane and then filling them with anhydrous ammonia, which is needed for a higher quality methamphetamine.

Photo by Tereasa Nims. A store manager demonstrates how covert and quick people are when forcing their way into the secure propane cages that house both full and empty cylinders. Methamphetamine cooks are reportedly stealing propane tanks, bleeding them of the propane and then filling them with anhydrous ammonia, which is needed for a higher quality methamphetamine.

By TEREASA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers

Several area propane tank cages that stand outside stores have been broken into within the past few months, and while some assumed it was because of rising propane costs, the truth appears more sinister.

A 28-year-old Lincoln Park resident, Seth, familiar with the production of methamphetamine, said those making the drug, use the canisters for anhydrous ammonia.

“Using anhydrous ammonia allows a more pure meth, meaning a higher pay day,” Seth said. “Makers have to keep it in pressurized canisters. Some use fire extinguishers.”

He said they bleed the propane from the canister then fill it with the anhydrous ammonia.

Wyandotte police were called to Walgreens, 3221 Fort St., Feb. 22 when the propane cage was found open and 15 tanks were missing. Each tank was full with 20 pounds of propane. Thieves left three empty tanks behind. The manager told police the cage had been locked.

Wyandotte police were called again March 8, when 17 propane tanks were stolen from Future Fuels, 2821 Fort St. A store employee suspected they were taken the previous night when a semi-tractor truck was obscuring the view of the cage from inside the store.

Riverview Police/Fire Chief Cliff Rosebohm hasn’t seen larcenies of propane tanks in his city; however, he said drug manufacturers always search for a way to get an upper hand.

“They up their game and make it twice as bad,” Rosebohm said. “Meth has always been there. They have just found a different way of cooking it.”
Allen Park Deputy Fire Chief Ed Cann said it creates a very hazardous situation.

“They are risking their own lives and the lives of innocent people,” Cann said.

He said the use of propane tanks makes it difficult when emergency help may go into a place expecting to find propane and instead the tank is filled with anhydrous ammonia.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, propane retailers are demanded to always keep the tanks under lock. Cann said area fire departments enforce the EPA directive. Stores can be fined if the tanks are unlocked.

One concern was if the tanks are returned to the stores for a refund after it had anhydrous ammonia in it. Cann said that could be very detrimental because the anhydrous ammonia breaks down the canister and could lead to an explosive situation.

One Downriver convenience store employee said when canisters are returned for a filled canister, they try to make sure the canister looks intact. She believes the tanks are further examined during the filling process.

“I don’t know what they do with the canisters after they are damaged,” Seth said. “I only know how they use them for pressure.”

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the brass valve in a propane cylinder will be damaged if it comes in contact with anhydrous ammonia. This deterioration will lead to cracking of the valve body or its components and can ultimately result in a violent, unexpected expulsion of the valve from the cylinder, causing personal injury or death.

Representitives of the National Propane Gas Association said propane cylinders have been found in many cylinder exchange and refilling locations as well as in hotel rooms and mobile laboratories where people are making methamphetamine. They further add that it has occurred in many states.

A good indication the cylinder made contact with anhydrous ammonia, according to the NPGA is a blue-green stain on the service valve. A pugnant odor from the service valve is another indication.

People suspecting they are in contact with a propane tank impacted by anhydrous ammonia is encouraged to call their fire department.

(Tereasa Nims can be reached at tnims@bewickpublications.com.)