Safety Warning: Propane Tanks Used in Meth Labs

Propane Tanks
Martha Lazar/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Viral alert warns purchasers of propane tanks to avoid buying tanks with blue or green residue around the valve, an indication they may be contaminated with anhydrous ammonia. Authorities confirm that propane tanks can be contaminated in this manner, but say it's relatively unlikely they would end up in consumers' hands.

Description: Viral safety warning
Circulating since: April 2008
Status: True, but overblown

Example #1:
Email contributed by Ruthann B., April 27, 2008:

This is scary...

Subject: Meth Training Information
Importance: High

Hey guys. I was at a meth training/workshop yesterday and there was a lot of great new information presented. I wanted to let you all know about one thing that I was not aware of.

Meth cooks are getting the propane tanks from the exchanges at Wal-Mart, Kroger, etc. and emptying them of the propane. Then, they are filling them with anhydrous ammonia (which they now have a recipe for by the way). After they are finished with them, they return them to the store. They are then refilled with propane and sent back for you and me to buy. Anhydrous ammonia is very corrosive and weakens the structure of the tank. It can be very dangerous when mixed with propane and hooked up to our grills, etc.

According to our presenter, you should inspect the propane tank for any blue or greenish residue around the valve areas. If it is present, refuse to purchase that one.


Example #2:
Email contributed by J. Reim, May 18, 2008:

Fwd: propane tanks

Hello and how is your day so far? Where I am sitting, it is another D&D Day. You know DAMP and DREARY DAY. I just received this e-mail from a very good friend who is still involved with Law Enforcement. Since the grillin' season is upon us, I figured another PUBLIC SERVICE announcement was in order. It has to do with propane tanks which we all use. While I haven't heard of METH labs in my area lately, one never knows. As always, to be forewarned is always a safe encounter.

Be careful when you exchange your PROPANE TANKS

Meth cooks are getting exchange propane tanks from places like Wal-Mart, Kroger, Home Depot, Lowes and various services stations in your area. They empty them of the propane and then they are filling them with anhydrous ammonia (which they now have a recipe for by the way). After they are finished with them, they return them to the store. They are then refilled with propane and sent back for you and me to buy.

Anhydrous ammonia is very corrosive and weakens the structure of the propane tank. It can be very dangerous when mixed with propane and hooked up to our grills, etc.

You should inspect the propane tank for any blue or greenish residue around the valve areas. If it is present, refuse to purchase that one.

You should check out the following website for more details. They also have pictures you can show.

http://www.npga.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=529


Analysis: This falls under the category of information you're probably better off having, even though it's unlikely you'll ever need to use it.

Drug makers do sometimes use discarded or stolen propane tanks as vessels for anhydrous ammonia, a key and very dangerous ingredient in the manufacture of homebrew methamphetamine (aka crystal meth, crank, ice or meth). As a result, the tanks end up both corroded and contaminated by the chemical, making them extremely hazardous to re-use. The only tell-tale sign is a blue-green stain around the brass valve.

According to propane tank suppliers these damaged tanks rarely get recycled or resold, however — if for no other reason than the folks responsible for the damage don't want to attract attention to their illegal activities.

In June 2008, not long after media alerts about the dangers of re-purposed propane tanks began circulating, Philip Squair of the National Propane Gas Association told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was unaware of a single instance of injuries resulting from the re-use of a propane tank damaged by use in a meth lab. (The original NPGA warning that served as the basis for the media alerts was issued in 2002 and has since been removed from the organization's website.)

“Of the millions of tanks processed in a year, we encounter only a very, very few tanks that may have been used in meth production,” says Tod Brown, president of Blue Rhino, the leading U.S. provider of propane tank exchange. “Blue Rhino immediately contacts hazardous materials response units to properly dispose of any tanks suspected to have been used in the production or transport of methamphetamine. We work to ensure these tanks don’t make it back to the store or a griller’s backyard.”

As recently as April 2015, government authorities re-affirmed that it's possible for propane tanks contaminated by use in meth labs to wind up in the hands of consumers, but rare. "There is no indication of a widespread epidemic of propane tanks being tampered with or used to hold products other than propane," Massachusetts state fire marshal Stephen Coan said in an April 12, 2015 statement to WCVB-TV in Boston.

Consumers may still wish to take the better-safe-than-sorry approach and check for damage or contamination before purchasing recycled propane tanks, particularly from smaller, potentially less-than-scrupulous dealers.

Sources and further reading:

Tales About Damaged Propane Tanks Used in Meth Labs Only Partially True
Plain Dealer, 22 June 2008

Blue Rhino Responds to Concerns Over Propane Tanks and Methamphetamine Production
Press release, 23 June 2008

Cape Cod Firefighters Check Propane Tanks for Meth Damage
WCVB-TV News, 12 April 2015

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Emery, David. "Safety Warning: Propane Tanks Used in Meth Labs." ThoughtCo, Jan. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/propane-tanks-used-in-meth-labs-3299118. Emery, David. (2016, January 17). Safety Warning: Propane Tanks Used in Meth Labs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/propane-tanks-used-in-meth-labs-3299118 Emery, David. "Safety Warning: Propane Tanks Used in Meth Labs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/propane-tanks-used-in-meth-labs-3299118 (accessed December 11, 2017).