The super-labs driven south to Mexico are notoriously toxic to people and the environment, but Prado said the small conversion labs in the Central Valley are more dangerous. His agents have found them in densely populated apartment buildings and foreclosed homes in quiet neighborhoods where children play on the street.
In the conversion process, cooks evaporate off the liquid and use highly combustible chemicals such as acetone to make crystals. The fumes are trapped inside. “A spark can turn this into a fireball,” Prado said.
That’s what happened in 2012, when a home in a middle-class area of Fresno was blown off its foundation. The blast shot the air conditioner into a neighbor’s yard; another neighbor had to replace a roof rippled by the concussion. Two men ran from the home, and investigators said a third was seriously injured.
Central California’s interstates and proximity to Mexico make it an attractive distribution hub for cartels, officials say.
John Donnelly, until recently in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Fresno office, said agents all over the country have tracked meth to California’s Central Valley. “We’re the source point for Seattle, Portland, Alaska and as far east as the Carolinas,” Donnelly said.
Not all the meth travelling north makes its way to Central California. Two men were arrested last month in San Bernardino when investigators found a conversion lab, 206 pounds of crystal meth and 250 gallons of the liquid capable of producing 1,250 pounds of crystals.
Eric L. Olson, a Latin America researcher at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington D.C., said he witnessed agents seize liquid meth disguised in soda bottles during a 2012 tour of the border crossing at Laredo, Texas.
Liquid meth is just the latest innovation for transporting drugs for profit, he said. Smugglers have used tunnels, submarines, drones and once, Olson said, a 90-year-old farmer was used as a decoy.
“There’s no end to the creativity to getting the drug to market when there’s demand,” he said of the turn to liquid meth.
(Photo Source: AP)