Thursday, October 20, 2011

Only ER in three counties shut down after meth contamination

A man contaminated with dangerous chemicals forced the shut down of the only emergency room in three counties Tuesday.

It happened in Hempstead County at the Medical Park Hospital in Hope.

To have an entire emergency room shut down for about seven hours is pretty rare.
But the circumstances surrounding the shut down could be a sign of an alarming trend.
"It's obvious you don't want any kind of chemicals introduced into an environment like that," Sheriff Singleton said. 

A man who'd been dropped off there had first told staff a battery had blown up on him.  But after nearly an hour inside, he fessed up to something else entirely.  "He then told the people there a meth lab had blown up on him," the Sheriff said. 

A haz mat team was called in to decontaminate the ER. When they arrived they discovered their biggest concern: the man had been covered with anhyrdous ammonia, a very dangerous gas. 

"It can make you dizzy, watery eyes, naseau vomiting, things like that," he said.  Some hospital staffers reportedly felt their skin and eyes burning. The chemical can also cause lung damage.  "We hadn't seen anything like that lately," the Sheriff said. 

What's concering, Sheriff Singleton says this could signal a resurgence of this method of cooking meth.
Anhydrous ammonia found in some fertilizers and refrigerants was commonly used in the '90's, for what was called the "Nazi" method of making meth.

Then producers started switching to psuedoephedrine, which is cheaper and far less dangerous.
Risks of explosion and exposure to the general public are much higher with anhydrous ammonia.
"We need to find this lab," said Sheriff Singleton. 

Addressing this bigger problem will come later. Because of the man's injuries, the sheriff says they haven't interviewed him. The meth lab that exploded could be nearly anywhere. First, they must find it.
"That's our main concern right now is the safety of the citizens, to locate where this lab was, this cook was, once we get that done, we'll follow through with the investigation," the Sheriff said. 

Other law enforcement agencies say they believe anhdryous ammonia may be making a comeback amoung meth makers, perhaps because of the crack down on the sale of pseudoephedrine. Most though say it's too soon to say.