Pubdate: Mon, 05 Mar 2001
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Seattle Times Company
Contact:  P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA   98111
Fax: (206) 382-6760
Author: The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


SPOKANE - John Merkel figures drug dealers don't know what they're 
doing when they decide to use anhydrous ammonia to "cook" 

He'll gladly demonstrate the problem.

Wearing heavy rubber gloves and safety goggles, Merkel, a branch 
manager for Edwall Chemical in Reardan near Spokane, pours some 
liquid anhydrous ammonia into a bucket, then tosses in a dollar bill.

When he carefully fishes out the bill a few minutes later and places 
it next to another bill from his wallet, the one soaked in 
"anhydrous" is about three-eighths of an inch narrower. The 
waterless, water-seeking ammonia has soaked up most of the moisture 
in the paper, leaving it brittle.

That's what would happen to human flesh.

Nonetheless, the "Nazi method" of cooking meth using anhydrous 
ammonia has become more popular in the past two years among Spokane 
area drug dealers, law-enforcement officials say.

"It sucks the moisture out of the cells and they burst," Merkel said. 
"It just basically destroys your eyes, or you ingest it and it 
destroys your lungs." The cold liquid causes deep burns and quickly 
releases caustic fumes that are easily inhaled.

"Handled properly, it's safe to work with, but I don't think these 
drug guys have any idea of what they're working with," Merkel said.

Last month, Colfax truck driver Robert Neu died from complications of 
his exposure last October to anhydrous ammonia and liquid ammonium 
phosphate. Neu's tractor-trailer rig overturned just outside the 
Whitman County town of Palouse, and two 1,000-gallon tanks burst.

The Nazi method using anhydrous ammonia gets its name because it was 
supposedly developed by the Germans during World War II. German 
soldiers were given methamphetamine to keep them fighting on a 
limited diet.

The method of extracting meth from over-the-counter decongestant and 
diet pills avoids the use of stoves because heat is produced through 
a chemical reaction. The older "biker" and "red phosphorous" methods 
often rely on open flames to boil alcohol and other flammable liquids.

But the newer process quickly releases caustic fumes that are easily inhaled.

Sgt. George Wigen, head of the Spokane County sheriff's investigative 
support unit, said drug dealers and users overlook meth's exceptional 
dangers because it produces a longer high than other drugs and can be 
made locally.

"You don't have to know (someone) in Colombia to get it," he said.

The trend scares Lincoln County Sheriff John Coley, Whitman County 
Sheriff Steve Tomson and other law-enforcement officers in farming 
areas of Eastern Washington.

Dealers use garden hoses and duct tape to steal the deadly, gaseous 
chemical from fertilizer machines and pressurized storage tanks.

Just two weeks ago, thieves hit the McGregor plant in the Spokane 
County town of Fairfield.

"Last year was when we really started getting slammed," Tomson said, 
counting 20 documented thefts and guessing more went undetected. 
"We're really ill-equipped to deal with it."

For months, Merkel and other farm-supply dealers had noticed 
unscrewed caps on tanks.

"The first couple, I thought maybe they were scared off," 
Undersheriff Wade Magers said of the abandoned hoses. "But, with 
three of them in a row, I don't know if they're just lazy or what. 
Your guess is as good as mine."

He thinks the nocturnal thieves fled when fumes started to overcome them.

Many farm suppliers and farmers "take personal umbrage at having one 
of their most basic tools turned into a weapon against their towns," 
said Pete Fretwell, spokesman for the Spokane-based Far West 
Agribusiness Association.

He said the agricultural industry successfully lobbied the 
Legislature to make theft of anhydrous ammonia a felony.

Ultimately, Fretwell said, the agricultural industry is pinning its 
hopes on research to make anhydrous ammonia chemically useless for 
cooking meth.

"Unfortunately, even if we succeed at that, meth addiction will still 
be a huge community problem," Fretwell said. "Meth labs will continue 
to cook meth by other methods."
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MAP posted-by: Kirk Bauer