New Castle News

September 20, 2013

Training, vigilance limit meth labs

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Illegal manufacture of methamphetamine in Lawrence County is not prevalent, and local law enforcement wants to keep it that way.

Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa and New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem both have their officers trained to respond when such activities are discovered.

According to Lamancusa, the one-pot method of cooking meth, such as in the alleged lab discovered this week at Brinton Hill, uses the reaction of ammonia salts with sodium hydroxide, which produce ammonia gas. The gas, combined with lithium from batteries, breaks down the pseudoephedrine, an ingredient derived from common cold medicine.

“They can do it all in a 16- to 20-ounce bottle,” he explained. “During the chemical reaction, that gas is expanding. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the pressure can build up too much.”

The gas is flammable and explosive, he said, adding the two dangers are the byproduct — the residue and noxious fumes, and the potential for fire and explosion.

Eight officers from the District Attorney’s Drug Task Force and its special investigation unit have had clandestine lab investigation training, Lamancusa pointed out, noting there have been sporadic cases of meth labs locally but it is not widespread in Lawrence County.

“We’ve seen a bit of a rise in it in the past year,” Salem noted.

“This is a drug we are truly concerned about and we don’t want it to take root in Lawrence County,” Lamancusa said, “so we are being aggressive about our policing efforts.”

Gene DiGennaro, executive director of the Lawrence County Housing Authority, said the authority makes yearly inspections of its apartments but tenants must be given 48 hours notice.

“We’ve found things through inspections, but nothing like this,” he said of the alleged Brinton Hill lab, stressing the importance of vigilant of neighbors and cooperation with the police.