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Meth labs, whether large or small, are dangerous. Chemicals used in making meth are dangerous, the process of making meth is dangerous, and the waste left behind is dangerous.
Methamphetamine is an illegal stimulant typically made in "laboratories" from common materials, many of which are readily available to the maker. Recipes for the substance and step-by-step instructions can be found on the Internet, making it possible that a meth lab could be located in nearly any neighborhood in any city, any rural setting, or even campers and fish houses.
Meth can be made in a variety of ways. It can be "cooked," shaken in a plastic bottle with less heat exposure â€“ the "Shake and Bake" method, or steeped as in the "Nazi" method.
Many of the ingredients used in making methamphetamine are toxic, flammable, or explosive, making it dangerous for the maker and anyone nearby, especially children who may be exposed to chemicals used during the process.
"I don't think you need a degree in chemistry (to make meth)," said Valley City Police Chief Thompson. "If you're brave enough to follow the directions you find on the Internet, just about anybody can do it. The problem is, the chemicals involved in this are so dangerous that if you make a mistake, or if you read the directions wrong, or if you understand the directions wrong or the directions are wrong, you can easily blow yourself up."
Most methamphetamine that finds its way into the local area originates in either Mexico or Canada where ingredients are more readily available than in the U.S. where state and federal regulations have made purchasing pseudoephedrine â€“ a key meth ingredient â€“ difficult.
In fact, earlier this month, police in Ontario, Canada seized more than $40 million in methamphetamine, including 120 kilograms of pure meth â€“ enough to make four million pills, 110,483 meth pills, and 14 kilograms of meth powder waiting to be pressed into pills, in and around Toronto, according to CBC News, Toronto.
And the quality of meth coming into the area is very high quality, unlike earlier when meth was likely to contain impurities.
Obtaining enough ingredients locally to make the drug for personal use is easier, according to Thompson.
And while it's not likely to find meth mega-labs in and around Valley City, Thompson doesn't discount the possibility of finding smaller labs, though he's not heard of any thus far during a little over a year in the community.
Meth labs, even small ones, leave tattletale signs, most notably an odor. According to Thompson, "cooking" meth produces a strong, unique chemical odor, similar to the smell of cat urine. The odor is unmistakable and "once you've smelled it you never forget it," said Thompson.
Inside the meth lab a visitor may notice a yellow haze that clings to walls, ceilings and virtually every surface.
Other signs to look for include strange ventilation â€“ including open windows on cold days; unusual trash like empty cold tablet packages, lithium batteries that have been torn apart, used coffee filters with colored stains or powdery residue; empty chemical or solvent containers; empty soda bottles with holes in the top or with tubes coming from the top; or plastic or rubber hoses, duct tape, rubber gloves or respiratory masks.
Because of the toxicity and volatility of meth during the production process, police who encounter a meth lab must call haz-mat teams. Firefighters who encounter meth lab fires can do nothing without haz-mat assistance.
If a building containing a meth lab goes undetected, it can remain dangerous for years after the lab is gone. According to the U.S. Department of Health, unsuspecting residents of former meth houses could develop a cough, a rash or headache from exposure to methamphetamine residue.
Anyone who suspects a meth lab should call police, said Thompson. His department will take every precaution to protect the safety of the informant, he added.
Read this story in Friday's Times-Record.