MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Chemicals put in alcohol before transport to deter thievery???

Date: Thu Mar 25 13:36:29 1999
Posted By: Carl Custer, Staff, Office Public Health & Science, Scientific Research Oversight Staff , USDA FSIS OPHS
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 918763667.Ch

Name: Roberta Hagar E-mail:
Subject: Chemicals put in alcohol before transport to deter thievery???
Message ID Number: 918763667.Ch
You asked, “Quite a few years ago (maybe 15 years) someone told me that 

alcohol manufacturers put a certain chemical in tanker trucks transporting

their product to the bottling plants. Before bottling, an antidote was

poured into the alcohol to counteract the poisoning to someone from this

chemical. This was done to deter any truck high-jacks of the product. I

believe this is no longer done, however I would like to know the chemical

which was used at that time, for this purpose.”

This has been a difficult question to answer for lack of data about alcohol

for beverages.

Our Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) doesn’t seem to have

information on what goes into alcoholic beverages.

BATF’s site was of little help:

Several telephone calls pointed to a Steve Simon (202) 927 -8183, who was

extremely uncooperative.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

(202) 628-3544 is primarily a lobbying organization and their “scientific:

staff has been “away from the phone.”

So the rest of this response is my speculation:

1) This sounds like an “urban legend” although I didn’t find it at:

2) High quality alcoholic beverages have subtle flavor notes. Quality

distillers closely control the ingredients including the source of

fermentable sugars and the strain of yeast. Even the source of the wood

(much less the kind of wood) going into aging barrels affects the beverage’s

flavor notes.

So, I think adding a poison then its antidote would disturb this delicate

balance of flavors.

However, it could be possible to mask a poison and it’s antidote with fruit

flavors, herbs, or perhaps cream and sugar.

3) Distilled beverages are highly regulated. Brewers, distillers and

companies that produce alcoholic beverages must keep track of the quantity

of both ingredients and the volume and strength of outgoing product (for tax

purposes). When transported, beverage alcohol is shipped under seals

to ensure the volume or strength doesn’t change.

So, the market for a tank truck of stolen alcohol would be restricted.

However, I guess that anyone going to the trouble of stealing a tank truck

would have an idea as to where to market it. Moonshine?

Lastly: What is a poison, that would be effective in a tank of alcohol and

easily neutralized before poisoning?

Consulting with our staff chemists, toxicologists, & my wife (a chemist

with NIH) indicates there ain’t no such thing.

Therefore, in conclusion, I believe this is an “Urban legend”.

Carl Custer

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