Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Troy Elwell said any place can house a meth lab. Narcotics investigators have been finding small labs in barns, tents and even an ice cooler. Lt. Max Dorsey, the manager of the Drug Lab Cleanup Program for the State Law Enforcement Division, said they have added motorcycles, boats and hotels to that list.
“Since the way of manufacturing has changed to one-pot, it can be made anywhere,” he said.
The one-pot method, or “shake-and-bake,” creates a smaller amount of meth, but it is fast and can be accomplished if you have room to combine chemicals in a bottle.
Elwell said almost all the Aiken County cases involve the one-pot method.
So far this year, Aiken County investigators have worked 21 meth lab cases, passing last year’s total of 19 and the 15 cases in 2010.
While the county is seeing an increase, the city of Aiken is another story.
Lt. Karl Odenthal, of the Aiken Department of Public Safety, said busts for meth labs are rare. He said the city has found fewer than five operating meth labs in the past several years.
“It produces all those smells,” Odenthal said of meth manufacturing. “If you’re doing that in the city, people would smell it right away.”
Labs have been described as smelling like ammonia, cat urine and rotten eggs.
Generally, meth labs know no boundaries. Dorsey said South Carolina has three “pockets” of meth activity. The Upstate, including Greenville and Spartanburg, is the most active with more than 130 labs uncovered this year. Berkeley and Dorchester counties fall in the middle, and Lexington and Aiken counties are in the third pocket.
“The drug users in those regions just have the taste for meth,” Dorsey said.
In Aiken County, meth is still the No. 2 drug – surpassing marijuana but behind crack cocaine.
Makers are typically middle-age white males. Female manufacturers are particularly rare, police say.
By using the one-pot method and the right ingredients – most of which are easily accessible – almost anyone can create meth. However, these labs account for only about 15 percent of all the meth in the U.S., according to The Meth Project. The rest come from “superlabs” outside of the country.
Toxic chemicals found in household items such as batteries, cold medication, fertilizer, lye, matches, drain cleaner and brake cleaner are just a few of the ingredients.
“This is one of the few drugs you can make on your own,” Dorsey said.
The switch to an easier, more transportable method contributes not only to higher caseloads but also a higher amount of toxic waste that is frequently dumped beside the road or flushed down a drain after production.
For every one part of meth, seven parts of hazardous waste is left behind.
Elwell said investigators rely on the community to assist in their search for labs.
“We don’t really come across meth labs on our own,” he said. “They’re too small and easily hidden.”
In late August, a tip led investigators to an address on Buttercup Lane in Gloverville, where they say they found three people making meth in a barn behind the home.
Andrea Lowe, 28, and Michael Shoemaker, 30, were charged with first offense manufacturing meth and trafficking meth. Charles Harrison, 27, was charged with second offense manufacturing meth and trafficking meth more than 200 grams.