Ecstasy in your next meal

10 January 2016 - Sensational headlines

In The Netherlands the curse of the illegal drug laboratories continues (earlier episode here). Latest development: the chemical waste associated with it may end up in my next meal (NOS scoop here). How? Even though there are no signs that illegal drug production is diminishing (despite law enforcement efforts) the amounts of chemical waste certainly do. The all-time favourite place for the drug lords to dump chemical waste in is a nature reserve and the authorities used to be very busy cleaning up after them but not any more. Have the laboratories finally learned how to manage their waste in a responsible way? Have the drug lords been investing in new atom-economic chemistries or do they recycle? No, they have got a bit smarter than that. A recent illegal drug lab case in the Dutch town of Someren suggests they have found a novel form of waste disposal. The lab was discovered on a farm, chemical waste was found to have been dumped in the slurry pit and then the liquid manure was found to have been spread across a field that was later planted with maize. This maize (quarantined) now contains verifiable amounts of ecstasy. This is fortunately where the food-chain contamination ended in this business case. We did not get to the mad-pigs-on-ecstasy stage (let alone ecstasy in my pork chops) but it is annoying anyway.
From a physical chemistry point of view it remains to be seen if the new method is going to be adopted on a large scale. I know what liquid manure looks like and from what I now of typical chemical waste in the laboratory the two may not mix that well. Without getting specific on the type of farm equipment used, a good mix is what you need. The guy who should have the details - the farmer - has vanished. taking all the accumulated know-how with him.

Rik