Warning About Recycled Propane Tanks Contaminated with Anhydrous Ammonia-Truth!
Summary of the eRumor: An alert from a police officer in Oklahoma
about a danger involving recycled propane tanks. She says that
people are stealing propane tanks from retailers and using them to
transport anhydrous ammonia, a substance used in making illegal meth.
They may then exchange them back to the retailers, which consumers need to
be aware of because the anhydrous ammonia is corrosive and may render the
tank dangerous for future use. She recommends that if you get a tank
at a refill station that has blue or green residue around the valve, don't
The Truth: It's not clear how widespread this threat is,
but the same warning is being issued by numerous law enforcement
agencies in the U.S. and Canada.
The problem is that the anhydrous ammonia used in making methamphetamine
can corrode the valve at the top of the tank, making
it dangerous to use. If any of the anhydrous ammonia happens to be
in the tank, that can be dangerous as well to skin and lungs. Thieves not
only use the small propane tanks for storing the ammonia, but for stealing
it from larger tanks at businesses or farms.
Most of the other warnings we've seen from law enforcement also say to
look for blue, green, or blue-green residue around the valve
as possible evidence that the tank may have been used with the ammonia.
The National Propane Gas Association has issued an alert about the
problem. In a statement, the association said, "The
brass valve in a propane cylinder will be damaged if it comes in contact
with anhydrous ammonia. This deterioration will lead to cracking of the
valve body or its components and can ultimately result in a violent,
unexpected expulsion of the valve from the cylinder, causing personal
injury or death."
So far, we've not
found a case in which a consumer has experienced problems because of a
recycled propane tank damaged by use in making meth. It doesn't seem
likely that meth makers would return used tanks to refill stations unless
they happened to want some propane. The signs of contamination on
the tanks would be a tip-off to the refill stations that a criminal may be
Ohio State University issued a warning to farmers who use anhydrous
ammonia as a nitrogen-based fertilizer. The farmers usually have
large tanks of the ammonia and meth makers steal small quantities by using
the barbecue type propane tanks. Among other warnings, the
university urged farmers to be wary about any consumer tanks found on
their property that have the signs of contamination and, therefore, the
threat of injury.
It is recommended that if you spot the signs of contamination when purchasing
a cylinder, refuse it. If you discover that you have a tank with
signs of contamination, don't move it. Call your local fire
department for proper handling and disposal. Or you can contact the
National Propane Gas Association at
A real example of the eRumor as it has
appeared on the Internet:
With warmer weather upon us, it is imperative that those of you who cook
with grills that use the portable propane tanks be aware of this potential
Meth cooks are stealing portable propane tanks from
refill stations such as Wal-Mart and Krogers (maybe our own William's
Store), emptying the propane and refilling them with anhydrous ammonia,
which they need to make meth. After using the tanks, they may exchange
them back at these refill stations where they are recycled, and consumers
like you and I then get them.
This is very dangerous as anhydrous ammonia is very
corrosive and weakens the structure of the tank (which is why they
exchange them). It can be very dangerous when mixed with propane and
hooked up to our
Grills, etc. You should inspect any propane tank for any blue or greenish
residue around the valve areas. If it is present, refuse to purchase that
Officer Cindi Tracy
Elgin Police Department
Elgin School Resource Officer