In today’s pop culture, the term “meth lab” likely conjures up images from the TV show “Breaking Bad” – A room, home or large, mobile vehicle filled with vats, jars, open flames and other supplies. But law enforcement officers say newer methods of manufacturing methamphetamine are easier and more compact – and also dirtier.
The Aiken County Sheriff’s Office has busted six meth labs since Jan. 1, and they all have been what officers call “one-pot” or “shake-and-bake” labs, according to Sgt. Jason Feemster, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office.
All the supplies necessary to make meth this way can fit into a backpack, making these types of labs very mobile, Feemster said.
“It’s so portable and easy to make now, they can do it in their car,” he said. “They can cook it in the park and leave stuff laying aside where kids are.”
Feemster stressed that meth labs aren’t increasing, but officers want the community to be aware of the hazards these labs pose to the community and environment.
“We don’t want to strike a spirit of fear in the community,” he said. “We want people to be aware of what’s going on.”
With the one-pot method, essentially, the product is made by combining the ingredients in a 20-ounce bottle and shaking it. The entire process takes less than an hour, and Feemster said an ounce of meth can run between $2,500 and $2,800 on the street.
“This is a dirtier, cheaper way to make meth,” he said.
One of the byproducts of the process is a wad of gumlike sludge that is sifted out using a coffee filter, Feemster said. Often, manufacturers discard these items wherever they prefer, or simply throw them on the side of the road.
Because the ingredients to make meth are so volatile, law enforcement agencies contract with HAZMAT teams to clean up the waste, as well as any labs they discover, Feemster said. With HAZMAT teams typically coming from Charleston, Columbia or Atlanta, cleaning up a meth lab can get expensive.
This method started becoming the more common way to make meth about three or four years ago, Feemster said. Meth making of any kind carries a risk of explosion, but Feemster said he’s unaware of any explosions in Aiken County due to meth so far.
Residents are urged to be mindful of the waste and byproducts associated with making meth, which can include soda bottles, cut-up batteries, medical cold packs and coffee filters with balls of orange or pink sludge wrapped in them.
Feemster said the Sheriff’s Office talks each year with Adopt-a-Highway and other litter control programs about the dangers of the waste.
Police urge residents who see any indicators of meth-making materials not to touch anything and to call 911.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.