Thursday, June 19, 2008

The most expensive fire you'll ever see

Australian police have assisted Cambodian authorities in burning a cache of seized sassafras tree oil, containing a precursor chemical used to make the illegal drug ecstasy. The quantity of oil was large enough to make over seven billion dollars worth of the drug.

According to a news report:

It's put a huge dent in the global manufacture of ecstasy but it's done the environment no good at all.

Australia Federal Police say they have destroyed a stockpile of a substance capable of creating $7.6 billion worth of the illegal drug.

Six AFP officers travelled to Cambodia this week to help burn more than 1000 drums of oil rich in a substance called safrole, which could have been used to make 245 million ecstasy tablets.

AFP assistant commissioner Tim Morris admitted the substance was carcinogenic and the thick plume of smoke produced during the burn was not good for the environment.

"But there doesn't seem to be any other way to dispose of this chemical and it was done in a remote area away from the population," he said.

He said four technicians and two forensic chemists were working in shifts helping Cambodian authorities burn 33 tonnes of the oil this week at Pursat, 170 kilometres west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

He said the AFP had been helping train the Cambodians in safely dealing with volatile clandestine drug laboratories when the Asian authorities realised their Australian counterparts could help them dispose of the drums seized during raids.

"It's incredible isn't it?" Mr Morris said. "It's a huge amount, there's no doubt about that.

"The majority of this [substance] would have been moved into neighbouring counties for further processing and it's certainly likely that this safrole would have been used in the production of ecstasy that would have ended up in Australia, for sure."

The AFP supplied the special equipment used in the burn, including chemical suits, breathing apparatus, decontamination showers, air compressors, generators and gas monitoring and analysis equipment.

The sweltering conditions meant the burning of the 1278 drums could only take place early in the morning or in the evening because the officers had to work in the hot full-length suits.

Just think of it. That photograph might as well show a huge pile of hundred-dollar bills going up in smoke. It's scary to realize how much money is invested in the international crime network.


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