Meth Labs Reach Into Rural Midwest

Meth Labs Reach Into Rural Midwest
Posted by FoM on November 25, 2000 at 08:14:55 PT
By Jo Thomas, New York Times
Source: San Francisco Chronicle 
Illegal methamphetamine laboratories by the hundreds have moved into rural areas of Missouri and Illinois, turning commonly used farm chemicals into grave hazards and making quiet neighborhoods and towns dangerous places to live. In 1996, Illinois authorities raided and shut down one methamphetamine laboratory. Last year, they raided 207. State and federal officials here say the laboratories seem to be moving in from Missouri, where state police report that 615 labs were seized last year. 
Demand for the drug, a stimulant more commonly known as speed, is up, authorities said, and it is cheap to make and lucrative to sell. An ounce of methamphetamine, which can be inhaled or injected, can be made for $150 and sold for $1,500. Unlike manufacturing operations on the West Coast, these laboratories are small and crude, set up in sheds, trailers, hotel rooms or the backs of cars. They are locating in rural areas because the manufacturing process smells so bad it can betray the labs' presence to neighbors. And too often, police say, it's the neighbors who suffer the consequences. In February, a police officer surprised thieves in a predawn visit to a farm-supply outlet in Pleasant Hill, Mo., 30 miles south of Kansas City. The thieves fled, dropping the hose to a 1,000-gallon tank of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical used to fertilize farms -- and make methamphetamine. More than 200 gallons vaporized into a toxic cloud. "It was hugging the ground, moving like a fog," said the fire chief, John M. Smith, who ordered the evacuation of 250 people in its path. Five people were treated for minor injuries. Thousand-gallon tanks are a common sight around here in the spring and fall, when farmers fertilize their fields. Farm-supply stores rent hundreds of them to farmers who use special equipment to apply the ammonia under the soil. If it rains, a tank may be left unattended by the side of the road for a few days until the field dries out. Anhydrous ammonia is both dangerous and inexpensive. It is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine, law enforcement officials say, and it is the only one that cannot easily be purchased over the counter. In Shelbyville, the general manager of the Lakeland FS farm-supply chain, said he and other fertilizer dealers are worried about the dangers to the community. Anhydrous ammonia is "a pressurized, dangerous chemical that is not forgiving," said Jeff Sullivan. "It will burn your eyes, burn your skin. People have no idea what they're dealing with." The thieves "are ruthless," he said. "They'll cut through fences and shoot out the lights. There's no way to stop them." In June, Sheriff Randy Sims was helping to build a baseball diamond in Oconee, Ill., when his office reported that thieves were stealing ammonia a block away. Sims gave chase in his pickup truck. His windows were down, he recalled, because his truck was not air-conditioned. One of the thieves, Brandon Kamalii, who is 24 and is now serving eight years in prison, leaned out the passenger window and sprayed the ammonia, which had been placed in a fire extinguisher, at the sheriff. Sims was treated at a hospital for burns to his eyes, nose, and neck. Last year, a man with a fire extinguisher full of anhydrous ammonia on his lap died of burns on Interstate-55 south of St. Louis, after the liquid leaked and the extinguisher exploded. A paramedic, a firefighter and a passer-by who stopped to help were treated for inhalation burns. Master Sgt. Dave McLearin, an Illinois state police officer assigned to the East Illinois task force on drugs, said: "We've had people steal it and put it in coolers, plastic gas cans, even glass jars." All of those containers corrode. New legislation in Illinois, which will make it a felony to transfer anhydrous ammonia in a portable container not authorized by law, will go into effect in January. In August, Gov. George Ryan of Illinois urged other members of the Midwestern Governors Conference to join him in developing a stronger plan of action against the manufacture of methamphetamines. He has also set up a multiagency group -- including conservation, public health, agriculture, and family service agencies, as well as fire and police officials -- to identify the risks and threats the drug poses to family violence and the environment. Master Sgt. Bruce Liebe, an Illinois state police officer who has worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that the manufacture of 1 pound of methamphetamine generates 6 pounds of waste. Sometimes it is buried, sometimes dumped in garbage bags on the side of the road. State officials have warned residents of rural communities not to open any bags they find. Officials with the DEA in St. Louis say Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas also have serious problems with methamphetamine production and dealing. "One of the things we're finding is that a lot of high school-age kids are using it," said Shirley Armstead, a public information officer for the agency. "A lot of times children are allowed to be in the areas where meth is produced. " Last year, police in Shelbyville found a laboratory in the basement of a small family home not far from the center of town. The toxic fumes were vented up the chimney. Across the street, about 200 feet away, was the Little Red Engine day care center, with 40 children aged 15 months to 12 years. "I had no idea," said Shawn Rickett, director of the day care center. "I drove by there every day." She said she was angry and shocked that the lab was "that close to the kids. It's a scary situation." Complete Title: Meth Labs Reach Into Rural Midwest, Endangering Farm CommunitiesNote: Calm towns become dangerous places to live.Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)Author: Jo Thomas, New York TimesPublished: Saturday, November 25, 2000 Copyright: 2000 San Francisco ChronicleContact: chronletters Website: Related Articles:Drawing A Bead On A Nasty Drug Meth Seizures Expose Rural Drug Epidemic
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