Meth Lab Explosion - The Consequence of a Dangerous Enterprise (video)

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In the National Geographic video, Mark Buckner, from Nashville, Tennesee, lies in his hospital bed, with 60% of his body burned and bandaged. He speaks with effort around the tracheotomy hole in his throat.

“All it took was one drop of sweat. That sweat hit the bottle and it blowed up in my hands.”

Mark was ejected from his RV by the blast, and he watched as all of his possessions burned. In the footage, the doctors explain that the nature of a meth lab burn means they often have to wear hazmat style suits during the original treatment to protect themselves from contamination.

Why is it so dangerous?

Amateur manufacture of methamphetamine is a series of cutting corners. Risk is substituted for the proper equipment and training needed for what is essentially an industrial process. Imagine trying to make your own gasoline from oil, doing it in your garage and without any safety equipment -- then you have some idea of the sacrifices in safety that meth cooks regularly take on as part of their “job.”

Meth manufacture proceeds through several steps where volatile chemicals gradually change one substance into the final target: methamphetamine. Typically, the process starts by introducing ammonia gas into a mixture of lantern fuel (or other flammable hydrocarbon) and the starting ingredients. The reaction desired also requires the addition of lithium metal compounds as catalysts. Lithium, as used in this process, reacts violently with water – the reason it’s all done in water-free solvents.

The equipment used needs to be carefully monitored, and the reaction vessel needs to have the pressure released periodically – a process cooks call “burping.” Each time venting occurs, flammable and highly toxic vapors are released into the cook site. This makes for an explosive aerosol and the possibility of ignition by any open flame or spark, such as from an electrical outlet.

The consequences can be seen in this video, where the front wall of a motel room is blown out. The three cooks involved were captured later, with one having burns on more than 30% of his body.

Burns are common because when the reaction vessel explodes it is most likely being held in the hand of the meth cook. This isn’t something you can do remotely – it has to be watched closely to make sure the mixture isn’t overheating.

The innocent “others”

In some ways, it’s easy to say, “They got what they deserved.” That is, until you realize all of the other innocents who are affected by meth lab explosions.

  • Feb, 2012, Akron Ohio – Social services was notified that Heather Lerch had moved into a “drug house” with her 17-month-old son, Patrick. However, at the time, social workers could find no reason to remove the infant from her custody. By the end of the month, the child was dead. The medical examiner’s report listed the cause of death as inhalation of toxic fumes from methamphetamine manufacture.
  • Nov, 2011, Tulsa Oklahoma – 15-moth-old Ayen Jennings was killed in a fire at his mother’s home. The fire was the result of a methamphetamine lab explosion.
  • And the stories go on… In Bay County Florida, a sheriff held up a picture of 1-year-old Johna Osborn, whose play pen caught on fire after a meth lab explosion. She suffered serious burns. In Hampton Kentucky, two boys (aged 3 and 4) tested positive for methamphetamine after being removed from a home where the drug was being made.

There’s no positive ending here. Even when the lab doesn’t explode or the kids aren’t exposed to vapors or active drug; even if their mom and dad don’t end up in jail or killed by rival drug dealers; even after all of this, you’ve still got a parent (or both) who is addicted to one of the most debilitating and soul-stealing drugs man has ever invented. The chances of a good outcome are astronomically bad.

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