A law enforcement official says Sunday night’s anhydrous ammonia leak that threatened an eastern Iowa town was not an accident. Jones County Sheriff Mark Denniston says it appears someone tampered with a lock on a tank and up to 850 gallons of anhydrous ammonia leaked out – forcing emergency crews to evacuate the entire town of Olin for almost five hours in the middle of the night. No one was injured. In 2005, the state used grant money to purchase thousands of locks for anhydrous ammonia tanks. Sheriff Denniston says the locks are effective…most of the time.
“We had kind of a downturn and I think that was a statewide downturn. Recently, within the last 9 to 12 months, things are picking up again,” Denniston said. Anhydrous ammonia is a common farm fertilizer, but it’s also a key ingredient for making methamphetamine. Denniston says it’s not clear how the criminals are getting around the lock.
“I’ve had Co-op people tell me they wish they knew who it was so they could show them how they’re getting around it,” Denniston said. “The lock will still be on the valve, but they’ll get the valve turned.” The locks are specifically designed by a company called Tanks-A-Lok. A local distributor for the company told KCRG-TV they’ve never heard of someone getting around the lock. Larry Lahr is with the River Valley Co-op in Olin, the site of Sunday’s leak.
“All our tanks have locks on, but they’re getting it out of there somehow,” Lahr said. Sheriff Denniston says he’d like lawmakers to consider harsher penalties for those caught tampering with anhydrous ammonia tanks. He says stealing a lottery ticket can be a felony, but causing what happened in Olin on Sunday night is only a simple misdemeanor.
Contributed Justin Foss, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids