Anyone who has ever gotten an accidental whiff of anhydrous ammonia knows that the powerfully toxic agri-chemical is nothing to fool around with.
A low-cost, highly effective nitrogen-based fertilizer, "anhydrous" has been a godsend for corn producers, dramatically increasing yields. It has also proven profitable for a far less savory kind of producer − criminals who "cook" methamphetamine, the poisonous and highly addictive drug sometimes referred to as "working man’s cocaine."
Anhydrous ammonia is used to make what most dealers and users consider to be the purist form of meth. The pressurized liquid acts as an agent that extracts methamphetamine from ephedrine − an active ingredient in many over-the-counter allergy medications.
Since the 1970s, meth has become an endemic scourge in northwest Missouri and other rural parts of the state, and the lengths to which people will go to make or acquire the drug are often both desperate and bizarre.
All of which means that spring, when wheeled tanks of anhydrous are parked behind every farm co-op and alongside scores of gravel roads, is the time when ammonia thieves go to work.
Over the past month, the MFA Agri Services outlet in Conception Junction has been a favored target, according to Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White.
White said that two unidentified white males have been spotted at the farm supply business walking up to anhydrous tanks in broad daylight, tapping them with hoses designed for pressurized liquid, and driving away in a older model maroon sedan.
MFA manager Jeff Meyer said his employees called law enforcement rather than approaching the suspects in order to avoid a violent confrontation. He also said the men apparently siphoned off the ammonia into some type of gas container, an extremely dangerous procedure.
Meth-makers sometimes keep ammonia, which turns into vapor at room temperature, under pressure in propane tanks or fire extinguishers. But it can also be transported in small quantities for short periods in a cooler or thermos.
Since the Conception Junction MFA has been a repeated target, White said his deputies are keeping an especially close watch on the facility.
The department is also checking with authorities in neighboring counties to try and get a lead on the vehicle.
In addition, deputies are checking with area businesses in an effort to find out if there has been an increase in sales of ephedrine-laced cold and allergy medications.
"The big question is who is buying their pills," White said. "These people are pretty bold."