Illinois authorities tell deer hunters 2 watch for meth labs

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Deer hunters may spot meth lab evidence this season,

By BRIAN DENEAL
bdeneal@staff.dailyregister.com

    SALINE COUNTY - Hunters taking to the woods during shotgun deer season this weekend have an opportunity to serve as the eyes of law enforcement.

     Our county's Illinois Drug Task Force Agent Insp. Rob McConnell believes some hunters could stumble across discarded -- or active -- methamphetamine labs.

     "It's very, very possible. We've been finding them throughout the summer and there are a lot more out there," McConnell said.

     Meth producers have been active in the outdoors because it is easier to hide a lab and warm enough to do so comfortably, McConnell said.

     The ingredients include anhydrous ammonia, ether and sulfuric acid, all chemicals that neighbors can easily smell. "They find they run a lot less chance if they go out and find a lonely spot to do it. It's less likely a neighbor will smell it and call it in," McConnell said.

     He believes once really cold weather hits the meth producers will come back indoors to make their product, again setting up in motel rooms, basements, vacant houses, vehicles and other areas. Many don't set up labs in their own homes because of the risk of an explosion.

     He said hunters should look for containers that have a strong smell of chemicals.

     "Most likely the things deer hunters will notice are containers they've had the anhydrous in," McConnell said.

     Anhydrous ammonia is a commonly used -- and volatile -- fertilizer used in meth production.

     He said old liquid propane gas tanks used in charcoal grilling have been popular, as well as thermos bottles, plastic jugs and portable metal air tanks.

     Brass hardware on containers turns a bluish-green once it comes in contact with anhydrous ammonia, a dead-giveaway. Mason jars, especially those with a plastic screw-on lid, are commonly used to make the product and likely will have a chalky residue left on the inside.

     Some of the containers may still contain chemicals inside of various colors. McConnell said certain brands of the cold medicine have a red coating which may leave a red or pinkish hue to the liquid.

     McConnell said some meth producers have even used fire extinguishers for the mixing of their chemicals. He said one instance of this occurred in Edwards County with grisly results. A man held a cheap, disposable fire extinguisher between his legs while he pried the top out of it. The resulting explosion required his genitals be surgically removed.

     McConnell said there may be plastic soda bottles with holes drilled in the lids and plastic tubing near the containers. He said the bottles contain a mixture of salt and sulfuric acid used in the final stages of meth cooking to convert the mixture from an oil to a water base.

     McConnell said because of the chemicals used, no one should open the containers to further inspect them. He said the only safe chemical used is cold medicine containing ephedrine.

     "Every chemical except for the cold pills is poisonous," McConnell said.

     Ironically, ephedrine has only one molecule different from methamphetamine and the mixture of chemicals is designed only to alter that one molecule, McConnell said.

     McConnell said the containers may hold pressurized gasses that can spew out even weeks after the lab has been abandoned.

     "If hunters see something suspicious, I wouldn't suggest they open the lid and start smelling it. Just look at it and if it doesn't look like a natural thing that has been discarded, give us a call."

     He said people who spot a suspected meth lab may call the Saline County Sheriff's Department at 252-8661 or Illinois State Police.

     Cellular 911 calls will connect with State Police Dispatchers.
 

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