Experts from the United States and Britain have stepped in to help Kenyan officials test and destroy 1,141 kilograms of cocaine. The drugs were netted in 2004 during the biggest cocaine seizure in the country’s history. How will the Kenyans get rid of all that blow?
They’ll burn it. The plan is to incinerate the cocaine at the Kenya Medical Research Institute after officials finish testing the bundles to ensure that they’re narcotics and possibly to determine their origin. Kenya’s attorney general estimates that it will take at least eight hours to burn all of the contraband. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has advised the country on internationally accepted destruction methods, which include testing the ashes to verify the absence of drugs.
In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration burns illicit drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy, and cocaine at contract facilities. DEA officials transport seized drugs to the incinerator and load them into the device. (DEA agents do not allow the drugs to leave their custody.) Most incinerators have at least two chambers. The first chamber burns the drugs in a natural-gas fire, releasing gases that travel into a second chamber. The second chamber agitates the gases at a higher temperature and introduces more oxygen into the mix. Leftover gases, such as CO2, are released into the atmosphere. * Hazardous chemicals, like the ether and methanol used to make methamphetamine, are incinerated separately, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
Temperatures inside an incinerator can reach up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Leftover ash is generally a product of the drug’s packaging. The ashes are disposed of according to local regulations. (Some landfills prohibit the waste.)
Drugs are destroyed after they are no longer needed for legal proceedings. The DEA incinerates seized drugs if the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not send a letter requesting that the substances be preserved for use in an ongoing trial or investigation. If a stash is taking up too much space in DEA storage facilities, a sample might be preserved while the rest is destroyed.
Local law enforcement may use incinerators at hospitals, veterinary clinics, and other facilities. Virginia state police flush small amounts of drugs down the toilet. Springdale, Ark., police reportedly burn drugs in barrels. Canadian officials sometimes render drugs unusable by mixing them into a plaster that is later buried.
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Explainer thanks Patrick Wolf of the University of Maryland.
Correction, March 31, 2006: This article originally and incorrectly stated that incinerators burn off CO2 vapor as part of the process of destroying cocaine. CO2 is created during the incineration process, but it cannot be burned off. Rather, it is released into the atmosphere.Click here to return to the corrected sentence.