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Meth lab uncovered in Kiski Twp.

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2003

KISKI TOWNSHIP: State police happened upon a local methamphetamine drug-making lab Monday, indicating the spreading of a resurgence of the deadly stimulant not prevalent since the 1960s and '70s.

The lab was discovered in a shed behind an apartment in the 800 block of Route 56, according to state police.

It was the only the second such operation uncovered in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2002, but the 35th statewide.

That number is almost double from 2001, in which 19 methamphetamine labs were shut down across Pennsylvania, according to state police Cpl. James Coyle. Coyle is a member of the state police response team that investigates hidden drug labs.

Kiski Township Police also said there have been at least two other "meth" labs busted in the township in the past four years.

Coyle said Tuesday that he intends to file felony drug manufacturing charges against the 40-year-old man whom police said built the lab.

Coyle wouldn't release the man's name until charges were filed. Coyle said he doesn't think the man will try to run from police because he has a family.

Charges will be filed once police chemical tests are finished, which could take about a month, according to Coyle.

Methamphetamine is a white, odorless, powerfully addictive drug known as "speed," "meth," or "ice." Users snort or smoke it to get a high that can last six to eight hours. After this, however, users get very agitated, paranoid or violent.

State police discovered the lab Monday afternoon while they were investigating a burglary this weekend in Gilpin. The burglary happened at Klugh's Service Station along Route 66. Tools and auto equipment were reported stolen.

Coyle wouldn't say what chemicals were found in the Kiski Township lab or how much, but he said they hadn't yet been concocted into a usable drug form.

Other "meth" labs have been dismantled this year in Oil City, Titusville and in Pennsylvania's northeast, Coyle said.

"And it's only going to get worse," Coyle said. "It used to be like a biker drug; now it's made by anybody and everybody.

"The problem is, once you have one guy who knows how to cook it, he shares the recipe and it tends to spread out."

It is done in rural areas so neighbors won't detect the strong odor and become suspicious.

It sells for about $100 a gram, or $1,300 per ounce, Coyle said.

One state Attorney General's agent called methamphetamine abuse "an epidemic" and the "nightmare of nightmares."

"It's spreading like wildfire. Heartland states like Kansas and Nebraska are inundated," said Elaine Surma, a senior supervisory agent for the state attorney general's drug task force. "It's just bad all over."

The methamphetamine resurgence is new in western Pennsylvania. Like Coyle, Surma predicts the drug's influence will grow.

One reason is that traffickers don't have to sneak the drug past U.S. Customs Service agents; it be can be homemade in backyard or even vans.

The chemical ingredients for the drug can be bought at a hardware store, she said. These are chemicals such as acetone or sulfuric acid, and the drug makers usually dump the by-products outside, Surma said. These can easily contaminate underground drinking water supplies, she said.

During Monday's bust, state police troopers wore air masks and moonsuits to protect themselves. A hazardous materials team cleaned up the site after evidence was collected.

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    People who smell unusually strong fumes in their neighborhoods — such as an acetone smell similar to nail polish remover or a phosphorous smell similar to match heads — could be smelling the workings of an illegal methamphetamine lab.

    State police ask residents to report such odors, said Sgt. Steve Ignatz of the Kittanning state police.

    "We'll certainly look into it," Ignatz said.

    State police station in the Valley:

  • Kittanning (East Franklin): 724-543-2011

  • Butler: 724-284-8100

  • Greensburg: 724-832-3288

  • Kiski Valley: 724-727-3434

    On the Web

    www.health.org

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