Localman busted in meth lab case

Published on Thu, Feb 24, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Local man busted in meth lab case

By Jack Kintner

A 43-year-old Blaine man was arrested Wednesday morning on two counts of manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance by the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force. John P. Calene was charged after officers found a small meth lab in operation at the man’s motor home in the Bel Aire Trailer Park on Peace Portal Way. Post arrest clean up by a team from the Washington State Patrol was still going on at press time. 

Meth cooks are drug dealers who can cook up a batch of their illicit stock in trade, methamphetamines, almost anywhere from ordinary household ingredients. But under pressure from big city law enforcement, many seem to be headed for more rural parts of the state according to the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), a definition that includes Whatcom County.

One member of the task force in on yesterday’s arrest said that while the number of arrests increased by only one from 2003 to 2004 in Whatcom County, “We’re seeing a lot of bigger operations, people who are making pounds of it to ship across the
country.”

This is also the conclusion reached by DOE public information officer Mary-Ellen Voss, who said last month that statewide figures for 2004 indicated the number of meth labs were down a little less than 10 percent from 2003, but in Whatcom County there was an increase, from 24 labs in 2003 to 25 in 2004. Skagit County went from 12 labs to 31 in the same time period according to her figures.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said that, “Our numbers are often different than the DOE’s, because they’re measuring sites to which they have to respond. Our figures indicate 43 meth labs in 2003 for Whatcom County and 29 last year, fewer sites but most of them were bigger.”

The DOE becomes involved because various methods used to manufacture meth all involve distilling volatile combinations of ingredients like match heads dissolved in acetone by being heated to 400 degrees for an hour in an electric skillet.

Recipes vary widely, but one internet site describes additional hazards due to the process causing chemicals and methamphetamine to be deposited on surfaces and household belongings. Chemical by-products such as toxic phosphine gas may be formed during meth manufacture.

Recipes usually begin with over-the-counter medications that include pseudoephedrine or ephedrine in their contents. The pills are crushed and mixed with other chemicals that include combinations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), acids, bases, metals, solvents and salts.
Making meth with these chemicals can result in explosions, chemical fires, and the release of toxic gases. Meth cooking also produces solid and liquid wastes that can contaminate a building and its contents, or the groundwater or soil where they are dumped.

The DOE is required to clean up large hazardous sites, and this is usually done at no cost to the property owner, Voss said, “but if a house is still standing then it’s usually contaminated. The property owner would have to pay a private contractor to clean it up, for fees from about $3,000 to well over $10,000.”

“We did see a decline in Whatcom County,” Elfo continued, “but we also draw people who feel that they’re safe here because our jail is often too full to book anyone. But we’ll find room for them.”

In a recent sweep through the Kendall area, sheriff’s deputies and local police arrested a number of people, all of whom said that they knew they had outstanding warrants but that they also knew there was no room at the jail, according to Blaine police chief Mike Haslip. “Without exception,” he said, shaking his head, “every one of those folks said the same thing.”

Haslip, who has been chief for two years but joined the department in 1976, said that previously the most recent meth lab busted in Blaine was a portable operation being done in an old car, “but last summer we had one in the Salishan neighborhood, not too far from the police station, where they were also making pipe bombs as well as meth.”

“We try to work with store owners to have them keep an eye on certain kinds of merchandise, such as cold pills like Sudafed, alkaline batteries, boxes of book matches, tubing, mason jars and solvents,” Haslip said, “and people in neighborhoods can watch for empty propane containers, solvent smells, a lot of traffic and late night or all-night activity.”

Those things by themselves do not necessarily indicate the presence of a lab, Haslip said, “but they’ll get our attention if people will let us know. They shouldn’t be afraid, since in all my years in law enforcement I’ve never heard of an instance of retribution for a tip. These guys aren’t into it. They just want to get away to serve their habit.”

Assistance in the latest arrest was provided by the Washington State Patrol SWAT team and the Clandestine Lab Response Team.