Westside house used for meth poison test
Federal drug agents, with help from local law enforcement and health officials, cooked up methamphetamine in a Westside house
April 5. Afterward, they planned to burn the house down.
This isn't a misprint. These things really happened.
But it was all for a good cause, according to officials. Nobody is going to use the meth that was made. And property owner Jim Goodwin said he planned to raze the building, anyway.
The whole point of the exercise, which featured a myriad of police and fire vehicles outside 2413 Ehrich St. in the Midland area, was to learn more about the poisons unleashed into the air when “tweakers” (police slang for meth-manufacturers) build a batch of the brain-damaging drug.
“We know what the exposure levels are afterward, but we don't know what they are during a cook,” said Deputy Caoimhin “Q” Connell of the Park County Sheriff's Office. He was standing outside the house as he spoke, while through a window various individuals in safety suits could be seen inside mixing the meth ingredients while measuring air toxicity.
When the drug is made, a range of poisons fills the air, said Connell, an industrial hygienist who wrote the state's assessment protocol for what to do when law enforcement authorities discover a meth lab.
The worst of these poisons is phosphine. This is the same poison that was used during World War I - a poison so lethal that “at 15 parts per million, it can kill you,” he said.
Goodwin said he became aware of the methamphetamine problem when he bought a rental house in the 800 block of South 26th Street, only to discover that it had been ruined by a meth lab. “The stuff doesn't evaporate,” he said. “It gets into the walls, the flooring, the furniture. You about have to gut the house to clean it up.”
His experience with that house put him in touch with police. When they learned he owned another property (the one on Ehrich) that he wanted to tear down, “They said, 'Can we use? Can we use it?' And I said OK,” Goodwin recalled.
But that doesn't help him with the 26th Street house that he didn't know was a meth lab. He said he was especially dismayed because the seller didn't disclose the problem. He only found out was by looking at the regularly updated map on the Colorado Springs Police Department's website that shows the locations of meth busts.
A recently passed state law addresses the issue in part by creating a method by which a house can be legally declared clean by a certified industrial hygienist (although the cost is about $2,200). Another law requires real estate agents to tell buyers if houses they're selling have been meth locations - although it doesn't require agents to actually seek out that information, Goodwin observed.
What continues to be a struggle is stopping meth from being made. Unfortunately, the stuff is relatively easy to concoct and profitable to sell. According to Connell, cooking formulas are available among underworld types, and a place as small as a motel room can, in one day, transform into a meth lab. All the ingredients are available over the counter, including items like drain cleaners, rock salt or pseudophedrine. For an investment of less than $100 in ingredients, a tweaker can make a batch worth up to $4,000, the hygienist said.
Goodwin worries that the older Westside, with its small, low-cost homes, might be attracting meth makers. The police's website map shows a dozen or so Westside meth busts last year (but none this year through February).
The drug's manufacturers can be resourceful. They are known to quietly move into neighborhoods and set up shop, unsuspected by those who live around them until it's too late, or, in some cases, when the house blows up (as happened in another Goodwin neighborhood) because of a chemical mixing mishap.
One law-enforcement tool for detecting labs is identifying locations with major spikes in electrical use - chiefly because the offenders need excessive power to fire up multiple rows of heating mantles in the cooking process. However, the criminals have been known to foil that tactic by stringing an electric line from the house straight to the city's high-tension line, Connell said.
Neighbors can help in the detection process. Information about what to look for appears in this article.
Specific agencies present at the Ehrich Street meth-house test were the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Colorado Springs Police, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Tri-County Health Department (Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties), El Paso County Sheriff's Office and Park County Sheriff's Office.
Westside Pioneer article