Buying Chemicals, Glassware and Lab equipment

by Igor

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This first part won't be of any use to the non-Americans, but there are probably enough American bees out there to keep it from being a waste of time. I hope that a lot of people can benefit from the "how to buy" parts in the second half of this message, no matter what their nationality. On with the show!

Where the pigs are

The US federal regulations relating to the purchase of chemicals and laboratory equipment/glassware are not difficult to find, but more than a bit ambiguous when you do find them. I've been surfing the web for a few days now, and have found many interesting things. Some of you probably know this stuff. Others probably don't. For those that don't, here's my compilation:

First, let's look at what the DOJ means by List I and List II chemicals. This is in 21USC Sec. 802. That's the US Code, and you can search and read it yourself at

From the US Code, current as of 1998:

(33) The term ``listed chemical'' means any list I chemical or any list II chemical.

(34) The term ``list I chemical'' means a chemical specified by regulation of the Attorney General as a chemical that is used in manufacturing a controlled substance in violation of this subchapter and is important to the manufacture of the controlled substances, and such term includes (until otherwise specified by regulation of the Attorney General, as considered appropriate by the Attorney General or upon petition to the Attorney General by any person) the following:

(A) Anthranilic acid, its esters, and its salts.
(B) Benzyl cyanide.
(C) Ephedrine, its salts, optical isomers, and salts of optical isomers.
(D) Ergonovine and its salts.
(E) Ergotamine and its salts.
(F) N-Acetylanthranilic acid, its esters, and its salts.
(G) Norpseudoephedrine, its salts, optical isomers, and salts of optical isomers.
(H) Phenylacetic acid, its esters, and its salts.
(I) Phenylpropanolamine, its salts, optical isomers, and salts of optical isomers.
(J) Piperidine and its salts.
(K) Pseudoephedrine, its salts, optical isomers, and salts of optical isomers.
(L) 3,4-Methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone.
(M) Methylamine.
(N) Ethylamine.
(O) Propionic anhydride.
(P) Isosafrole.
(Q) Safrole.
(R) Piperonal.
(S) N-Methylephedrine.
(T) N-methylpseudoephedrine.
(U) Hydriodic acid.
(V) Benzaldehyde.
(W) Nitroethane.
(X) Any salt, optical isomer, or salt of an optical isomer of the chemicals listed in subparagraphs (M) through (U) of this paragraph.

(35) The term ``list II chemical'' means a chemical (other than a list I chemical) specified by regulation of the Attorney General as a chemical that is used in manufacturing a controlled substance in violation of this subchapter, and such term includes (until otherwise specified by regulation of the Attorney General, as considered appropriate by the Attorney General or upon petition to the Attorney General by any person) the following chemicals:

(A) Acetic anhydride.
(B) Acetone.
(C) Benzyl chloride.
(D) Ethyl ether.
(E) Repealed. Pub. L. 101-647, title XXIII, Sec. 2301(b), Nov. 29, 1990, 104 Stat. 4858.
(F) Potassium permanganate.
(G) 2-Butanone (or Methyl Ethyl Ketone).
(H) Toluene.
(I) Iodine.
(J) Hydrochloric gas.

[back to igor]

That's it for the definitions of what constitutes a List I or a List II chemical. Analysis of further information follows.

  • Wholesalers/retailers are required to obtain a DEA permit if they are going to be selling any listed chemicals. The DEA is, not surprisingly, particularly uptight about primarily mail order businesses. In order to get a permit a business owner must fill out an application for a DEA permit specifically listing the controlled chemicals he or she wishes to sell. This application is sent to the main DEA office for processing, and if it is pre approved then a DEA agent will visit the owner/company to review the application, evaluating the personality, facilities, professionalism and abilities of the owner/company, and advising the owner/company about potential hazards and problems with selling the listed chemicals. After all this, the DEA still has to approve you; it doesn't mean that you're going to magically get a permit.
  • A company should never apply to sell listed chemicals that do not directly relate to their stated business; they can, but the DEA will look long and hard before approving it. The fewer listed chemicals you want to sell, the better off you are. Also, there are more than a few stupid people who apply for permits just so they can buy ephedrine (or whatever) to divert for personal use. Very, very, very bad idea. A DEA agent on the West Coast told a friend that this is not uncommon, and that the DEA will see right through you. It's one of the things they're looking for when they do their little pre approval interview.
  • They seem to focus heavily on PPA, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in their regulation of precursors. This means that they care a lot about methamphetamine (perhaps because it's cheap to make and so immensely popular in this country), but don't seem to be quite as tuned in to the manufacture of other amphetamines or phenethylamines. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY WON'T BUST YOU FOR MAKING MDMA, MESCALINE OR 2C-B!! They will, and they'll probably send a dozen jackbooted and
    heavily armed thugs to harass you while the guys in protective suits are walking around bagging your hexamine and two gallons of sassafras oil (what the FUCK were you thinking when you bought that, anyway?) All I'm saying is that I think you're safer if you don't try buying any of the List I or II chemicals, ESPECIALLY ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and PPA. There are regulations regarding
    the quantities that dictate when something should be reported. If you're small scale then you probably won't hit these thresholds in a month anyway, even with List I stuff, but don't push it. No sane person would sell List I's to you anyway, and they would quite reasonably be very careful about List II stuff.
  • Distributors are REQUIRED BY LAW to report any suspicious activity or purchases. The government has no specific regulations on exactly what constitutes "suspicious," but the DEA suggests the following as a starting point. From the DEA's DMCA FAQ at

"The reporting of a suspicious order is required by the Controlled Substances Act and is of primary importance to DEA in limiting the availability of listed chemicals in the illicit traffic. Each regulated person is most familiar with its customers and the circumstances surrounding the orders it processes. The chemical industry must use its best judgment in identifying suspicious orders.
The following are provided in order to assist the industry in identifying suspicious orders:

  1. An individual who desires to pay cash and wants to pick up the chemical(s).
  2. An established customer who deviates from previous orders or ordering methods.
  3. A new customer or unfamiliar representative of an established customer who orders listed chemicals.
  4. A customer who has difficulty in pronouncing chemical names.
  5. A customer who is vague about its firm's address, telephone number, and reason for desiring a listed chemical.
  6. A customer who wants a listed chemical shipped to a post office box or address other than the usual business address.
  7. A customer who prefers to pay by cashier's check, postal money order, etc.
  8. A customer who will not furnish references or who is vague about furnishing references for credit purposes.
  9. A customer who desires listed chemicals for reasons at variance with accepted legitimate industry practice.
  10. A customer who is not a member of a trade, professional, or business association.
  11. A customer who furnishes false or suspicious addresses, telephone numbers, or references.
  12. A customer who refuses or is reluctant to establish a credit account or provide purchase order information.
  13. A customer whose communication either by telephone, mail, or other means is not conducted or prepared in a professional business manner.
  14. A customer who requests unusual methods or routes of shipment or who provides unusual shipping, labeling or packaging instructions.
  15. A customer who purchases unusual quantities or combinations of chemicals or glassware in contrast with customary practice and usage.
  16. A customer whose stated use of listed chemicals is incompatible with destination country's commercial activities or consignee's line of business.
  17. A customer with little or no business background information available.
  18. A customer using a freight forwarder as ultimate consignee.
  19. The use of intermediate consignee(s) whose location or business is incompatible with the purported end user's nature of business or location.]
  20. Evasive responses to any questions, or responses that indicate a lack of basic knowledge of the industry, or inability to supply information on whether listed chemicals are for domestic use or export.

As you can see, a lot of stuff can be suspicious. If you're going to buy stuff from a distributor then don't be a stupid jerk. Meet these requirements so you won't screw it up for the rest of the people ordering from them. For example, if you shiftily ask for large quantities of acetamide, and want to pay cash, then a smart source will report it. (If they don't, and if they OR you are caught, they could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison for what the DOJ perceives as their recklessness.) So they report it, the DEA comes knocking on your door, and then they might do an audit of the supplier because he was stupid enough to sell it to you.

Or say you were smart enough to be professional and cooperative with the chemical supplier, but the DEA busts up your lab and finds receipts (credit card statement, purchase order, invoice, whatever) tying you back to that supplier. Well, guess what? You might have just fucked several unwitting bees who were smart enough to be inconspicuous to the business owner, but who are still on file at that business as having purchased potentially suspicious chemicals. Thanks a lot, dumbass. There will be a long line of angry bees waiting outside your cell to hit you with a lead pipe once you're inside. And I hope that you enjoy being brutally raped by psychopaths who are mildly bitter about facing a lifetime incarceration.

More Advice on the Act of Buying Stuff

Many of the chemical/glassware companies that sell to private individuals realize that some (many?) of their customers are buying stuff for use in clandestine drug manufacture. They probably don't want to report you. Don't give them a reason to. In fact, try to make them think that it was insane of them to ever suspect you in the first place. ("He was such a nice boy!")

Be courteous, knowledgeable and professional on the telephone. Burn your receipts. Scrape labels off of chemical bottles and burn them, too. Dispose of containers where no one will ever pay attention to them, like in a dumpster in the city public use landfill. (But be environmentally conscious at the same time.) Be smart about receiving chemicals. You know the drill. Don't fuck it up for everyone else. This is not a joke. By being careless, you could inadvertently send a bunch of people to jail, not the least of which being the guy who owns the chemical supply business. See Dick Drug. See Dick Fuck Up. See Dick Die at the hands of Bubba the Child Molester. Don't be a Dick.

What do I think about buying chemicals? The best advice I've found is by POPeye, and it is archived at Rhodium's site:

I am totally, irrationally paranoid about being caught, and I usually proceed accordingly. Here's the trade-off: provide as few clues as possible to your real identity, but remain inconspicuous. For what it's worth, I might not have any experience with the actual manufacture of drugs, but dammit, I have bought so much stuff (some of it suspicious, and some of it from big time suppliers, too, not just the companies that sell to individuals) that I have a good bit of experience pulling off my purchases.

All you have to do is apply some common sense to what you're doing, and know enough about your reputed subject to fool the average person taking and filling the orders at a chemical supply company. Know how to pronounce a chemical before you ask for it. Know correct pronunciations of words like "isomer", "carbonyl", "claisen adapter" and "ketone." This shit comes up. Seriously.

Be able to spout off your SSN, driver's license number, street address, business name/phone/address, birth date, etc., immediately upon being asked. And don't just make them up on the spot. Have them (fake or real, whatever) memorized. If you're picking up in person, print up some business cards and take them along with your PO and fake ID.

Other things: when purchasing chemicals, don't let on that you know anything about the processes related to clandestine manufacture. Pick a legitimate area of organic/medical chemistry or chemical engineering research -- how about pesticides, improved delivery of orally administered drugs, solubility variations with temperature and pressure? Know where you got "your" under-graduate degree and maybe "your" graduate degree. Know when "you" graduated. And don't pick a big school, either. Pick a smaller university in another part of the country, because if you don't, then Murphy's Law says that the person to whom you are speaking will have attended the same big school that you did, and
will ask something about the campus, faculty or town that you won't be able to answer. Even better, pick some place that you have visited and with which you are relatively familiar. If you used to date a guy who went to Podunk State University in Southern Kansas, then PSU-SK sounds like a great chemistry department for you.

Did you learn a really believable Australian accent by watching Paul Hogan, a good Massachusetts accent from old videotapes of JFK, or a great Belfast accent from your granny? Hmm. That might be useful. But if you're going international, you'd better know something about where "you" came from, then. Referring to a Scottish or Irish person as English could cause him to put his fist down your throat. Koreans are not Chinese. Perth is on the west coast of Australia, Sydney and Melbourne are on the east. People who live in San Francisco will often call SF "the city" in conversation. Cambridge and Boston are not the same town. Orange County is not LA, at least not to people who live in LA. Dallas and Fort Worth have individual identities; people in Forth Worth DO NOT live in Dallas, and God help you if you think otherwise. The Netherlands is a country, not a region. Ukrainians are not Russian. Pakistan and India are not the same country.

Be friendly, loose and confident, but don't be too talkative. If you've volunteered all of this information before they've even asked you to name your first item, they're going to be suspicious. If it comes up in conversation while they're processing your order, great. If you can laugh, or you can make them
laugh, great, but leave the subject matter as something that isn't particularly memorable. Stay away from any kind of conversation about controlled substances, even if you're just joking around or poking fun at "those fools trying to make drugs." If they bring it up, say something appropriately disdainful about "those fools." For example, if you're standing in front of the person, you might roll
your eyes and say "yeah, sometimes I think that the gene pool could use a little chlorine." Whatever you do, don't take the opportunity to get on your soapbox and wax poetic about the unfairness of our ridiculous War on Drugs. If you do: BING BING BING! Red flag. Just hope that they don't call the police while you're waiting for your acetic acid, 2.5L of hexane, and your condenser.

For walk in purchases, try to be inconspicuous. Wear something nondescript. A polo shirt and khakis. Button down shirt and slacks with a subtle tie. A fairly plain sweater and skirt. Try not to have the mascot of the some distant university on your jacket, or a "I Took Second Place in the Main Street 5K Run!" t-shirt. If you're going to shave your beard, cut or color your hair, or get new glasses, maybe this is a great time to stock up on potassium hydroxide, LAH and hydrochloric acid.

Let's say that, God forbid, you are forced into conversation. (This happens a lot for walk in business, not so much for telephone purchases.) Little things mean a lot in conversation, especially if someone wants to be suspicious of you. DO NOT go looking for conversation. Be polite, be friendly, but get the fuck in and then get the fuck out. This includes both telephone conversations and walk in. If you are forced into conversation, and the opportunity is presented, take an opportunity to mention how many non-standard ground glass stoppers you've accumulated in the stopper drawer at the lab. Bitch about an incompetent co-worker. Comment about how the inspection guy came around yesterday to check the fire extinguishers. Talk about the person you met on the ride up the office elevator that morning. Complain about how you're going to have to pay $2500 to have your rotovap replaced because one of the lab assistants pushed it off of the bench. Praise your graduate advisor for her tireless work in developing delivery mechanisms for antibacterial drugs. Etc. You get the idea.

Developing a convincing and complicated lie is an art form. Practice. Know your entire fake life's history before you start using it. If you're married in your fake life, don't refer to your girlfriend, even if you're not at the same place. If you played soccer, don't talk about how you hate sports. Be consistent.

So, IMHO, the most important things are:

  • Be calm, confident, consistent, professional and knowledgeable. It's no big deal for you to be buying THF, acetone, chloroform and 250 ml boiling flasks. These are common fixtures in a lab, and you do this all the time. Really.
  • Know what you want. When you're out of something in a lab, you know what it is, you make a list, and you pick up the telephone and order it. You don't flip through a catalog going, "and, um, some pentane, and... let's see, 500g of NaOH, and 50g of LAH... no, make that 250g of LAH...."
  • Spread out your business. If you simply must have all of the stuff to make a particular drug, and you must have it now, then buy from four or five different suppliers. This is just as suspicious if someone is watching you, but the suppliers don't usually communicate with each other, so they don't know to raise a red flag.
  • Don't be particularly memorable. Unless it's unavoidable, keep unnecessary chatter to a minimum, but don't be brusque, rude or dismissive. If you do talk, stay calm. Sound like you do in everyday
    conversation. As a culture, Americans are very friendly and outgoing. So are Australians. Canadians and Europeans tend to be a bit more reserved. Educated people from Georgia are very polite, saying "yes sir" and "no ma'am." People from New York are more abrupt but still professional. Fit the mold. Always fit the mold.
  • Have documentation. If they ask for your driver's license, you'd better have one. If they ask for a faxed PO, you'd better have a fax machine close by. Don't give them everything up front, but if they want it, don't be a jerk about it. Be prepared.