Archived Story

CCDET ‘inundated’ with one-pot meth labs

Published 10:59am Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dowagiac Daily News

“Without a doubt, our biggest problem right now is methamphetamine,” Det. Sgt. David Toxopeus advised Dowagiac Council Monday night in delivering the annual report for the seven-member Cass County Drug Enforcement Team (CCDET) the city shares with Sheriff Joe Underwood’s office.

The team saw about a dozen meth labs last year and averaged two to three a month until March, when melting snow revealed remnants of one-pot labs discarded along roadsides.
“Ever since then we’ve been inundated with dumpsites,” Toxopeus said. “To this point this year we have 15 meth labs.”

One day alone they located 24 one-pot labs on O’Keefe Street.

These two-liter bottles are ticking time bombs because they can remain volatile.

Jostling them, such as volunteers cleaning up roadsides or scrounging deposit bottles for a little extra cash can create a chemical reaction of hydrogen chloride gas.

Flames erupt out of tears the size of a pinhole and cause chemical burns, plus contaminate ground water.

“They understand what we’re looking for,” he said. “They used to burn it, but nothing burns completely, so we’d go out and dig around in your burn pile with a stick,” stirring up evidence of old meth labs.

“They learned not to burn,” Toxopeus said.

“Some of the bad guys take this stuff and destroy it. They drive down the road late at night and throw it out. In today’s economy, we don’t have the number of police cars on the road.”

Making meth requires ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine.

Many solvents can be used.

“In Cass County, Coleman fuel seems to be No. 1,” Toxopeus said, as there also seems to be brand loyalty to Red Devil lye.

“These guys can tell you every product that’s out on the market and what effect it has on their lab,” he said. “They’re passionate, they think their lab is better than everybody else’s and they think they know how to beat the system.”

As for reaction agents, the detective recalled a few years ago when anhydrous ammonia was being swiped in large quantities from isolated farms.

“Farmers started taking better care of it,” he said. “I think most of our co-ops don’t even carry it, and the ones that do” apply a substance that exposure to will turn your body pink.

“People who probably can’t spell the words ‘chemistry set’ figured out they if they steal this ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate, they can make their own anhydrous ammonia – and that’s what they’re doing.

“Lithium is where fire comes in. They’re taking E2 batteries and peeling them. If you looked at the people we arrest, their hands are just scarred with burns. When they’re peeling batteries, the lithium is sparking and burning their hands. They put everything into one pot. Shake and bake. Making meth is not as complicated as it used to be. The problem is if those two-liter bottles become compromised just a little bit, we’ve got video showing a 20-foot flame shooting out like a blow torch. We’ve had several people burned, houses burned down,” Toxopeus said. “It’s the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think we’re catching all of our fires that are happening in our community, but we have caught some.”

He recalled the 10-month-old baby which showed up at the hospital and tested positive for meth.

“I talk to people who are addicted to meth just about every day,” he said. “Their mannerisms are that they are constantly moving, like Parkinson’s times 10. To see a 10-month-old baby with the same mannerisms…”

On March 31 the CCDET had recorded eight meth labs, 21 meth dump sites, eight meth components, 86 one-pot labs.

Checking Monday, dump sites are up to 28, with 15 meth labs and 97 one-pots.

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