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Frustrated farmers stain fertilizers pink to foil thieves
WICHITA, Kan. -- It may fall a shade shy of catching thieves red-handed, but for farmers fed up with methamphetamine cooks filching their fertilizer, staining them pink will do just fine.
Assuming you can discourage thieves you cannot easily catch, a new product called GloTell -- which is added to tanks of anhydrous ammonia -- will not only besmirch the hands of those who touch the fertilizer, but leaves its mark on anyone who snorts or shoots the end product.
GloTell is already proving to be a handy deterrent, but there were details to be worked out between its birth as a farmer's brainstorm and finished product.
The additive had to withstand the cold, corrosive nature of anhydrous ammonia. It had to be safe for the environment, safe for crops and even safe around children.
And in the two years it took to develop GloTell, researchers at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale found it did much more than just stain thieves pink.
The visible stain, even if washed off, was still detectable by ultraviolet light 24 to 72 hours later. As an added benefit, the additive helped farmers detect any tank leaks, said Truitt Clements, spokesman for Illinois-based GloTell Distributors LLC.
Best of all, the treated anhydrous ammonia rendered any meth it was used to make extremely difficult to dry and turned it an unbleachable pink, he said.
"Most people that are drug users, they like a clean-looking drug if they are going to ... put it in their body," Clements said. "We know the end-product is not pretty at all."
Snort it, and it turns the nose fluorescent pink. Inject it, and the telltale pink shows up at the injection site, he said.
During product testing, GloTell was added to anhydrous ammonia tanks at farms that had been having problems with meth thefts in Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana, Clements said. Within a week, the thefts stopped.
On Tuesday, GloTell was unveiled at the Illinois State Fair.
Next month, Virginia-based Royster-Clark Inc. will begin selling it at nearly 250 of its outlets around the nation under an exclusive distribution agreement with GloTell, said Lori Ann Peters, a spokeswoman for Royster-Clark.
The meth problem is especially bad in rural states like Kansas, which ranks among the top five meth-producing states in the nation, said Kyle Smith, spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
"Meth is our Number One problem -- and has been for several years now," he said.
In 2003, there were 649 meth labs were seized in Kansas, compared to four labs seized in 1994, according to KBI statistics.
Anhydrous ammonia is especially dangerous to use in meth production -- it can burn lungs, cause explosions and chemical burns, he said. Meth makers will likely turn to other meth production methods if GloTell use becomes widespread.
"Even if it pushes them to use a different methodology, that is good. ... It has to be demonstrated to me first. I hope it works, but we have to see," Smith said.
Clements said the additive will likely add about $9 per ton to the cost of anhydrous ammonia, which now costs about $240 a ton.
To deal with the problem of meth thefts, some states have passed laws requiring locks on anhydrous ammonia tanks -- with limited success.
Iowa State University has also been working on an additive that would make anhydrous ammonia unusable for meth production. That product may debut next year, said Harriet Wegmeyer, spokeswoman for the Fertilizer Institute, an industry trade group.
"All farmers want to do is go out and produce their crops and raise their families and do the best job they can," Clements said. "A lot of times they are fighting druggies and putting up fences and locks. They just want to go back to the production of agriculture."