Anhydrous ammonia tank locks have flaws

The Jones County Sheriff says Sunday night's anhydrous ammonia leak that threatened a town was not an accident.

Up to 850 gallons of anhydrous ammonia leaked from a tank at the River Valley Co-op near Olin. Emergency crews evacuated the town for almost five hours in the middle of the night. No one was injured.

Anhydrous ammonia is a common farm fertilizer. It's also a critical ingredient for making methamphetamine.

In 2005, the state used grant money to give out thousands of locks to prevent criminals from getting into the tanks. Those tanks are stored at co-ops, and on farm fields across the state. The locks are specifically designed from a company called Tanks-A-Lok.

"We had kinda a downtown and I think that was a state-wide downturn. Recently, within the last 9 to 12 months things are picking up again," said Jones County Sheriff Mark Denniston.

Each time a criminal tampers with a tank, Sheriff Denniston said there's a risk it could end up like Sunday.

"I've had Co-op people, as recently as today, tell me they wish they knew who it was so they could show them how they're getting around it. The lock will still be on the valve, but they'll get the valve turned," said Denniston.

KCRG-TV9 contacted the local distributor for the Tanks-A-Lok locks, and they said they've never heard of someone getting around the lock.

Sunday's leak happened at the River Valley Co-op, and locking the tank was a Tanks-A-Lok.

"They're not talking to the right people. All our tanks have locks on, but they're getting it out of there somehow," said Larry Lahr with River Valley Co-op.

The lock doesn't stop everyone, but law enforcement and co-op workers said the tool stops some.

"If you come up with a better way, we'll do it," said Lahr.

One idea to stop the criminals is to make the crime come with a harsher punishment.

Sheriff Denniston said he usually doesn't favor changing laws to enhance penalties, but he does support such a move for anhydrous ammonia.

Denniston said stealing a lottery ticket can be a felony, but causing what happened in Olin on Sunday night is only a simple misdemeanor.

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