Police on Friday dismantled what they say was an active methamphetamine lab that supplied the drug in Armstrong and several other counties.
The makeshift lab was inside a small house at 3240 Garvers Ferry Road, within 100 yards of five other residences.
Taken into custody were Jessica R. Conrad, 33, who owns the 1 1/2-story frame house; Herbert N. Covey IV, 32, 1200 block of White Cloud Road, Allegheny Township; Gary E. Miller, 53, 500 block of Lincoln Avenue, Vandergrift; and Stephanie Swindler, no age or address available.
The four suspects and two preteen children were pulled from the house in a raid timed to begin just as dawn arrived.
The adults were to taken a portable decontamination tent set up on the property because of the toxicity of some of the chemicals used in making “meth,” among them brake cleaner, battery acid and drain cleaner.
The children, a boy and a girl, were dressed in white, disposable jumpsuits and driven by Kiski Ambulance to ACMH Hospital in East Franklin for “respiratory complaints from exposure to meth,” said District Attorney Scott Andreassi.
The adults were interviewed in the heated tent by the authorities. Covey and Miller then were taken to the Armstrong County Jail. Each was being held without bond for allegedly failing to appear in court on other matters.
Andreassi said that meth lab charges are pending against the four adults.
“An investigation is continuing,” he said.
Ben Waugaman, supervising agent with the state Attorney General’s Office, was part of the team that entered the house, said meth was found, but he declined to say how much.
How it started
Andreassi said months of investigations by the county drug task force and state attorney general’s drug agents led to the raid.
At 5:30 a.m. yesterday, heavily armed state police and the AG’s drug task teams met with police at the Parks Township Fire Hall for a briefing. By 6 a.m., they had donned respirators and protective clothing — with all seams sealed by duct tape — before leaving in 28 cars and trucks for the seven-minute drive down to Dime Road and up Garvers Ferry Road.
Local police provided security and blocked Garvers Ferry for hours. Parks Township firefighters and Kiski Township ambulance crews stood by because of the danger of fire and explosion from meth labs.
About eight officers went inside to bring the six people outside.
State police chemists in protective suits found evidence that the “red phosphorus process” was being used to make the drug, according to Dave Ellis, AG drug strike force regional director.
The “Red P” process can sometimes release the same type of poisonous gas that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, in 1984.
“But there was no evidence of that (gas) with this lab,” Waugaman said.
Using the “Red P” method, the drug is made in four steps. Commonly used components include over-the-counter cold pills, brake cleaner, drain cleaner, battery acid and other substances.
Ellis said the meth “cookers” were using all rooms in the small house to create the drug, although the potentially explosive final assembly step apparently was limited to rooms upstairs.
Police said it was hard to tell how many rooms are in the house because space was partitioned by sheets hung up to the ceilings.
A sheet also was used to cover a window, which offered a view of a rugged hillside, a rusted child’s swing set and dilapidated playhouse.
The state Department of Environmental Protection helped with the lab cleanup. It also was investigating the lab’s impact on the environment.
Officials fear that the meth cookers discarded hazardous waste materials near a small stream behind the house. That stream flows into the Kiski River.
Red P labs usually leave 5 pounds of hazardous waste for every pound of the drug made, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
State Attorney General’s Office spokesman Nils Frederiksen said the AG is concerned about the impact of labs.
“We always look at a lab as a possible environmental crime site,” he said. “We take it seriously.” A review is under way.
Some meth is made in relatively permanent labs in Mexico and brought into the United States.
“Some think that quality isn’t good enough, and they want to make their own meth,” Andreassi said.
Andreassi said the raid wouldn’t have been possible without help from state and local officers.
To learn more about meth, go to www.justice.gov .
Meth is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. It can be swallowed, snorted, injected or smoked.
The drug causes levels of the brain chemical dopamine to fluctuate and it damages the central nervous system of users.
Nicknames include: speed, meth, ice, chalk, tweak, chicken feed and Shabu.
The state police clandestine lab response teams had 85 calls for meth labs in 2010. So far this year they have handled 17. The AG drug strike team handled 16 lab responses statewide in 2010.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at least 1.7 million Americans used the drug in 2010.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, state police, attorney general, U.S. Department of Justice