Local law enforcement officials are tickled pink about a new additive for anhydrous ammonia designed to highlight crooks, but some farmers are skeptical.
People who tamper with anhydrous ammonia tanks that contain the additive will be stained fluorescent pink, making it easier for police to identify thieves, according to the developer.
Anhydrous ammonia is a nitrogen-based plant fertilizer used by farmers all over Eastern Oregon. But it's also used by people manufacturing methamphetamine, a highly toxic and illegal drug that has plagued Umatilla and Morrow counties.
The additive, called GloTell, was released Aug. 17 by Royster-Clark Inc., the exclusive distributor. GloTell acts as a theft deterrent by physically staining people who come in contact with the treated product, the company said. The stain caused by the additive will turn fluorescent pink under ultra-violet light for up to 72 hours.
The company also promotes the additive as a leak detector, because it will stain the valves and fittings of a tank that's leaking.
"This is definitely one of those things that will help farmers out," said Sgt. Greg Sherman of Oregon State Police, a member of the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team (BENT).
Sherman said the GloTell stain could help law enforcement officers narrow down potential suspects in the theft of anhydrous. But to be effective, officers would likely have to begin carrying ultra-violet lights with them.
Farmers, on the other hand, say the additive could be more trouble then it is worth.
"If you add a chemical to keep the criminals away you're going to raise our cost," said Ione farmer John Rietmann.
Umatilla County District Attorney Chris Brauer said there are a number of issues that have to be addressed concerning prosecution of people found with the fluorescent pink stain on their hands. But he's optimistic about the theft deterrent GloTell could provide.
"Anything that can help curb the (meth) problem in our county is welcomed," Brauer said.
The theft of anhydrous has been rampant throughout Umatilla and Morrow counties. The county is second overall and first per capita for the number of meth lab seizures this year - 61.
GloTell has been deemed ergonomically and environmentally safe by researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, who developed the additive.
"The thing that really tickles me is that somebody is actually taking this problem head-on," said Umatilla County Sheriff John Trumbo, a member of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Meth Task Force. "Just the mere fact that somebody's taking a step forward by creating this (additive) is a real positive."
Trumbo said he thinks GloTell will serve as a deterrent for those wanting to steal anhydrous ammonia.
But a bigger and more helpful additive may be released next year. Iowa State University is developing an additive that would render anhydrous ammonia ineffective for meth.
However, Sherman warned that regardless of developments, meth will remain a problem.
"Some people are starting to find a way to make their own anhydrous," Sherman said. "So they'll find a way to keep making meth. But some manufacturers don't want to go through all the trouble of having to make the anhydrous themselves."
For now, the GloTell additive is an option in the fight against meth. Joe McDonald, agronomy division manager for Pendleton Grain Growers, said he's unsure how the addition of GloTell will affect the anhydrous.
EO reporter Brook Griffin contributed to this story.