Police in Missouri are trying to determine if hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold dust missing from a Pfizer medical research lab was stolen or simply misplaced.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that police in Chesterfield began their investigation after the gold dust turned up missing during an annual inventory of the lab. Pfizer Inc. had purchased the gold dust for $700,000 in 2011 to be used for research.
And while small amounts of gold dust may technically be light, it's unlikely that a light breeze blew away the entire supply. The Dispatch notes that $700,000 in gold dust would weigh between 30 and 70 pounds.
"We're not even sure if they just didn't account for it and it was used naturally, or if it was stolen or misplaced," said police Capt. Steven Lewis. "Some of it is gone and some isn't."
Pfizer said it's cooperating with law enforcement on the investigation. "We are taking this matter very seriously and working closely with local law enforcement authorities," reads a statement from the company.
Interestingly, regardless of whether the gold dust was lost or stolen, the value of Pfizer's purchase has increased substantially over the past year.
"You can add at least $100,000 to the value of that from last year," said Gary Sturgill of the Gold Prospectors Association of America.
Pfizer did not specify what kind of research it was conducting on the dust, but gold is commonly used in a number of industries, including electronics and dentistry (the metal is used in creating crowns). A 2004 study looked into the possibility of using gold salts in the treatment of arthritis.
It also has several commercial manufacturing purposes, is sometimes used in automobiles and can even be turned into a clothing thread.
Last month, contractors found $300,000 in gold dust inside a California home where they were installing a new air-conditioning unit.