Sheriff warns of cyanide at meth lab sites
Posted: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 6:18 am
By: John Brannon, Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
A not-so-trivial question of the day: What do Nazi death camps of the 1930s and ’40s have in common with meth labs in Tennessee and elsewhere today?
“Cyanide,” said Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vast-binder.
The Nazis used cyanide, or “Zyklon-B,” gas to murder millions of Jews at death camps such as those at Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau.
Vastbinder said with each “cooking” of the highly-addictive drug “meth,” the poisonous gas is replicated. And that is why, if you stumble over the rag-tag remains of one alongside a road or back in the woods, you should leave it alone.
“Once or twice a month, we get a call from the (Obion County) highway department about roadside meth lab trash they’ve found,” he said. “This time of year, with hunting season coming on, more will be found in the backwoods.”
Keep in mind this word of caution:
“Even though a meth lab has been dormant for weeks, if you pick any of it up, you can reactivate chemicals and release poisonous gas. So we advise you to leave it alone and report it to authorities,” he said.
What to do
“If you suspect a meth lab or find meth lab trash, call the sheriff’s office or your local police department,” Vastbinder said. “Let law enforcement investigate it, deal with it. No lay person should ever deal with or move any of the lab components or try to clean it up.
“There is the possibility of fire or release of cyanide gas.”
Tennessee has “haz-mat” — hazardous materials — teams specially trained in clean up of meth labs and meth roadside trash.
How to recognize meth lab trash? There will be bottles, plastic bottles, such as two-liter soft drink bottles.
“Often, you’ll see hoses coming out of them,” he said. “In this ‘shake and bake’ method of making meth — they call it the one-step process — there’ll be some liquid still in the bottle,” he said. “It will be discolored, you’ll see a gray substance in there, which is ephedrine that has changed into methamphetamine. It’s all chemicals. A lot of them are mixed in either sodium nitrate or anhydrous ammonia.
“All of this needs to be dealt with by professionals. You can get burned by inhalation or it can explode.”
Lithium batteries and anhydrous ammonia are primary ingredients.
“Lithium reaction will spark a fire,” he said.
Vastbinder said the number of meth labs in Obion County cleaned up by the Haz-Mat team has increased over last year — two in 2009 and six in 2010.
In-service training about the war on meth will be held for the Obion County Sheriff’s Department this week, Vastbinder said.
“The first day of training will be recertification for all the guys who are lab certified,” he said.
The Meth Task Force Counterintelligence Group in Chattanooga will teach classes.
“They run the TEMIS — Tennessee Meth Identification System — program for the state,” Vastbinder said. “It keeps track of ephedrine sales.
“This training is all about ongoing continuous education, for the people in our department to stay informed about this dangerous drug.”
Vastbinder reported that, as of Thursday, the Obion County Law Enforcement Complex had an inmate population of 157 — 132 males, 25 females.
He estimated that of the total figure, about 80 percent are being held on drug or drug associated charges.
“And of that overall number, 85 of them have prior offenses. That group has an average of seven prior offenses,” he said.
Will these people ever learn?
“When it’s drug related, it overrides normal thoughts,” he said. “Until a person wants to get help and help themselves, they can go to all sorts of rehab and sit through classes. But until they decide to help themselves, you’ll never see a change in them.”
John Brannon may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 9.20.10