Dangerous meth waste often discarded carelessly in communities

By Amy Cherry 10:56pm, November 19, 2013
WDEL's Amy Cherry talks with Jamie Bethard, who heads up DNREC's hazardous materials incident team, which responds to meth lab complaints.
A meth lab could be hiding in your next door neighbor's backyard putting you and emergency responders at risk for serious danger and even death.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports in part two of "Meth Madness."

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In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control called methamphetamine the fastest-growing illicit drug in the U.S.

It took another six years for the drug to rear its ugly head in Delaware in one-pot meth labs, where makers mix common household chemicals in two liter soda bottles to make methamphetamine.

Recipes are readily available on the Internet.

"It's like baking a cake, if you can follow the recipe, hopefully you'll be able to, for them, make a good product. For us, society, we don't want it nor do we need it."

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But Delaware has plenty of it. Environmental scientist Jamie Bethard with DNREC's Emergency Response team says they've been lucky so far without any explosions associated with these mobile meth labs.

But still, he and his team, have to wear heavy protective gear and breathing apparatuses to deal with corrosive chemicals.

"Burns are a major problem on a one pot, where you have an explosion, you're caught in a flash fire. Those people third degree burns, second degree burns right on through," says Bethard.

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Sergeant Paul Shavack recalls a particularly volatile meth lab that was busted in Townsend late last year.

"What they're doing with it is putting it out in the backyard to avoid detection, not necessarily in the trash. They're putting it in backyards, putting it in sheds, so you'll see bottles, two liter bottles, you'll see some tubing piled up. We've seen that. In Townsend, we've experienced that where there was trash which was just debris from the byproducts of creating methamphetamine," says Shavack.

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Bethard remembers the first time he really came across meth one decade ago..

"Approximately one mile from our Penny Lane office, probably 10 or 12 years ago, we had one of the biggest methamphetamine labs in the country on the eastside of the Mississippi," Bethard says.

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He says his team had no experience in drug labs back then and used it as a learning experience. Recently, his team has been busy with several meth labs popping up every month.

He calls these one-pot meth labs are a serious hazard to communities.

"When they throw their waste out on the side of the road or something like that, unbeknownst to the community, they try to pick it up and they try to do the right thing, keep the streets clean, and now they have a very dangerous plastic bottles and stuff like that or glass bottles, if they even go to glass, in their hand that can create a burn, a corrosive burn, a flash fire or other types of injuries," he says.

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Bethard also wouldn't call meth an epidemic, but says it's an emerging trend that's sounding off the alarm.

"25 years ago did you ever think you would be responding to these meth labs within people's homes?" I asked

"No, I didn't think I'd ever respond to meth labs and stuff like that. We were a very traditional hazardous materials incident type of team," Bethard says.

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He says DNREC has spent more than $80,000 in staffing and equipment in the last nine months to deal with the explosion of mini meth labs in Kent and Sussex counties.

"We're very, very lucky, we've been able to reuse our suits some. Our gloves, are a little not so lucky. These gloves are running us anywhere from $120 to $150 a pair. They're fire-resistant, chemical-resistant, and a lot of times we have to put our hands in places we really don't want to, goin' through trash. Depending on how contaminated these get, they may be worn once and thrown away," Bethard says.

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But people like Bethard are more than just scientists, they're sleuths, who have to think like the bad guys.

"We kinda have to think about how an individual would want to hurt somebody else, and once you get into that mindset, you can preplan the event. If we can't visualize how somebody wants to do this, we can't take protective actions to help people," he says.

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What's helping the meth problem prosper? Bethard says it could be law enforcement's crackdown on prescription pill abuse and people's need to find other ways to get high.

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