Warning About Recycled Propane Tanks Contaminated with Anhydrous Ammonia-Truth!


Summary of 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 use it.

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 present.

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 1-800-728-2482.

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 new threat.

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 one.

Officer Cindi Tracy
Elgin Police Department
Elgin School Resource Officer