Did the Sale of Pyrex Hurt the Crack-Cocaine Industry?

We’ve written a lot about the economics of drugs, both legal and illegal. There’s an interesting article in Popular Science about Pyrex bake ware, crack cocaine, and the unintended consequences of reducing a product’s quality.

Pyrex is valued by cooks for its sturdiness in the kitchen, particularly its ability to withstand rapid, dramatic temperature changes that typically shatter normal glassware. It turns out that people making crack cocaine valued this quality too. The process of cooking powder cocaine into hardened crack is intense, and involves a container of water undergoing a rapid temperature change. For years, Pyrex measuring cups, manufactured by Corning, were a key component of the underground crack industry.

But Corning sold Pyrex in 1998 to World Kitchen, which altered the makeup of the Pyrex material, making it less resistant to temperature changes and more prone to shattering. This, points out the Popular Science article, had a substantial impact on crack production:

[A]n entire underground industry was forced to switch from measuring cups purchased at Walmart to test tubes and beakers stolen from labs. Which just goes to show, if you think you know all the consequences of your decisions today, you’re probably wrong.

(HT: John Marlowe)

 

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  1. caleb b says:

    Ooooh. I love the idea of an underground market of the old pyrex dishes. Lots of material from this piece. The cops start tracking the criminals through bakeware sales. Drug dealers also dealing old pyrex. A huge bust of pyrex in a warehouse with “a street value in the millions.” Funny indeed.

    Isn’t World’s Kitchen cheapening up the product odd? That would be like Teflon changing it’s product so things stuck to it. Weird.

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    • Dee says:

      Not really all that odd. The old stuff lasted for decades. Relying on the brand name value, if a piece shatters, they can expect a significant number of consumers to repurchase their brand, as it’s the more recognized.

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  2. Mike B says:

    I still don’t think the reduction in drug manufacturing was worth the cheapening of an iconic American product. I wish WalMart would put the same pressure on its suppliers to improve quality as it does to reduce packaging and use RFID tags. Of course high quality items require replacement far less frequently and that means less trips to WalMart. That is why I believe WalMart is so unethical, their incentives are not aligned with their customers. By pushing that with costs less initially they actually get their customers to pay more over their lifetime weather they are making crack or brownies.

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    • caleb b says:

      “…Walmart is so unethical….their incentives are not aligned with their customers.”

      What does this mean? Isn’t Walmart’s “incentive” to make as much money as possible? How is this different than any other business? This is a confusing statement.

      Besides, I think Walmart is pretty charitable. Have you seen the people they hire? Based on the IQs at my Walmart, it’s charity that they have a job at all (an NO CHANCE they are worth minimum wage).

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  3. Vic Parekh says:

    I wish the article would talk about the price differential between the old Pyrex or the new Pyrex, or give some reasons why the new owner changed the formulation.

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    • Tom says:

      Lower cost is the reason. Soda lime glass has a lower melting temperature which accounts for much of the cost difference with borosilicate glass.

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  4. Flau says:

    According to the Pyrex website (and you know you can always believe what you read on the internet), there was no change in the formulation of the glass: http://www.pyrexware.com/index.asp?pageId=30&TruthId=2

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    • Jenks says:

      Are you reading this mythbusters?

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    • Tom says:

      Read the link carefully. They skirt around the issue that Pyrex was made from borosilicate glass and now is made from cheaper soda lime glass. Believe me, industrial Pyrex (Pyrex 7740) is still made from borosilicate which has better thermal shock resistance, mostly because its thermal expansion is smaller.

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      • DM says:

        Yep, laboratory Pyrex is still borosilicate glass (and still sold by Corning). Scientists need to be able to autoclave it.

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    • Linus says:

      Well, if you check the links the Pyrex website itselfs refers to (like Snopes) as proof there was a change:

      “Pyrex glass bakeware was originally made from borosilicate glass and is now made from tempered soda lime glass.”

      http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/pyrex.asp

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      • dedwad says:

        True, but WHEN they did that is relevant – from the Pyrex site….

        “Corning Incorporated began making Pyrex glass bakeware from borosilicate glass in 1915 and in the 1940s began making Pyrex glass bakeware from soda lime”

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  5. Benji says:

    I have a friend who used to cook crack cocaine, seriously, it’s not me, he told me a similar tale once. He used to cook the crack in mayonnaise jars, best foods I think, around 10 years ago he said all of the mayonnaise jars went plastic and he was at a loss to find a suitable replacement for the same reason, everything he used shattered.

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    In all strange things, it is best to check Snopes first…and they don’t support your conclusions. But I’ll ask my crackhead friends when they wake up.

    http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/pyrex.asp

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  7. James says:

    I’m curious: why steal glassware from labs, incurring overhead of time, risk of discovery, etc? Why not just order from one of the many on-line suppliers of laboratory glassware?

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    • Bourree Lam says:

      James – ordering online is even riskier. For illegal drug operations, the key word is cash. You avoid a paper trail/ investigation/etc. If you order a ton of laboratory grade glassware, but you’re not a lab, you’ll probably get flagged. Ordering online requires a credit card, so if you are in fact producing illegal drugs you’re already caught. Running a personal/home lab is not easy – that’s how most marijuana producers get caught in Canada: their electrical bills are off the charts.

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  8. James says:

    I agree with your assessment of Walmart. Their customer base has no other choice because the price incentive far outweighs the quality incentive. Scarcity of quality availability makes it a mute point for the poor. Because it’s all about the margins they just want it to make it past the doors before before it breaks. Our disposable society is depressing. btw: nice missquote put of context “Caleb b”.

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    • dedward says:

      I’m no wal-mart fan or apologizer…however:

      It’s quite clear that wal-mart’s main objective, other than to make money, is to consistently have the lowest price on reasonable quality goods that people want. And in that respect, they are experts. They constantly push their suppliers to shave costs. The consumer benefits from this.

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    • CT says:

      “Because it’s all about the margins they just want it to make it past the doors before before it breaks”

      What the EFF are you talking about. Walmart sells the SAME BRANDS as every other retailer. They are the SAME PRODUCTS. As the ultimate retail superpower, Walmart just sells for a lower price.

      In reality, your argument is with the suppliers.

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