In Timewell, Il., 260 miles southwest of Chicago, where at least a ton of anhydrous ammonia has disappeared over the last four years, would-be thieves are greeted by a 25-foot tower with infrared cameras poised to monitor their every move, says the Chicago Tribune. Anhydrous ammonia, a corn fertilizer, is a common ingredient in the production of methamphetamine. The last decade has been a headache for fertilizer dealers in the Midwest, where ammonia theft has shot up. Meth lab seizures in Illinois totaled 24 in 1997. Last year authorities closed down 786 labs. As meth production increased, massive tanks of ammonia in secluded, rural areas became easy targets.
Since December, the state has spent about $675,000 on grants to 85 fertilizer dealers across Illinois to beef up security, whether with hefty steel valve locks, alarm systems, or a menacing security tower. There are 700 ammonia facilities in Illinois; 60 to 70 percent have dealt with theft. Security wasn’t an issue 10 years ago. The average person was not interested in getting near the pressurized liquid, which when released as gas can swiftly blind, burn, and suffocate. Theft easily goes undetected, as meth producers steal mere gallons at a time, usually filling a couple of propane tanks from a 1,000-gallon or more supply. The grant program allows dealers to determine their security needs, and each grant will cover up to two-thirds of the cost.