What began as a mid-South phenomenon has begun to spill over into North Carolina and Virginia. Thefts of anhydrous ammonia -- a cost-effective fertilizer to farmers and a raw ingredient for illegal drug manufacturers -- have migrated from the fields of Kentucky eastward with a vengeance.
For years, Southern States employees throughout western Kentucky have been tapped by state and federal law enforcement agencies for help in the fight against drug labs fueled by stolen anhydrous. In fact, due to its work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency, Southern States found itself in the singular position of being able to train law enforcement and emergency response teams in North Carolina.
The Statesville fertilizer plant's response team, which has been part of that facility's operation for nearly a decade, hosted an anhydrous ammonia safety training session for fire chiefs and police personnel in the tri-county area surrounding the plant. In addition to covering safe handling practices, Southern States outlined the methods used by criminals and provided tips for preventing thefts.
Much of the day's training centered on preventing releases caused by criminal activity.
"We believe that anti-theft training keeps safe the greatest number of our employees and patrons by keeping anhydrous ammonia where it belongs," says Fred Barnett, manager of corporate security.
"The closest HazMat response team was an hour away," notes Bruce Gray, plant manager.
"And that team had never had any exposure to actual anhydrous, just book- and lecture-based training. Southern States was able to provide hands-on experience handling it."
Once area responders saw how well-prepared the Southern States' team was, they expressed an interest in getting involved in future training and refreshers. "The SSC team is prepared for dealing with the growing anhydrous problem," notes Gray. "We know what we're doing, we've been doing it throughout our territory for years, and we're here to help ensure the safety of local officers and the people they serve."
The need is great -- and it is growing. Kentucky officials estimate that upwards of 60 percent of the nurse wagons left in the field will have been tampered with in the Bluegrass state alone.
"Our experience tells us that North Carolina will not be very far behind in that statistic," says Barnett.