A clandestine drug lab — described as unusually “large” by police — was discovered on a residential street in Burnaby in a house with a well kept lawn and a garden with rhododendrons ready to burst into bloom.
One neighbour said she was surprised to learn the couple who lived there were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of operating a meth lab in the basement of 8230 Manson Dr. and the danger the illegal lab presented.
“I’m surprised,” Elizabeth Park told The Province as officers dressed in white, full-body protective equipment prepared to enter the house next door.
“The police told us [that the chemicals were flammable], we didn’t know,” she added.
Park said she felt “relieved, of course” to see so many police and fire vehicles swarming the quiet street just off Government Road and to learn three people have been arrested in the case.
RCMP Const. Michael McLaughlin told The Province the risk of fire or even a serious threat to public safety when criminals use safe, leafy neighbourhoods as cover for their clandestine operations.
McLaughlin said a 33-year-old Mission man and a 24-year-old Abbotsford woman were arrested Monday as they left the house, and 42-year-old Burnaby man was arrested in his vehicle after being tailed from the crime scene.
The 33-year-old man was carrying an illegal loaded handgun and quantity of drugs believed to be methamphetamine, he said.
The two men remain in custody and the woman was released on a recognizance.
None has formally been charged or has made a first court appearance, said McLaughlin, as investigators are trying to piece together the charges to be recommended.
“Unfortunately, it’s not at all unusual to see clandestine laboratories in urban and residential areas,” he told The Province.
“That’s the trend, but it’s certainly a very dangerous trend. There are a lot of chemicals in this particular synthetic drug lab.
“It’s a large lab, it’s going to take us two to three days to dismantle,” he said, adding B.C.’s entire police clandestine-lab team was on scene.
“The only people who can go inside that residence are wearing full haz-mat gear,” he said.
McLaughlin said the lab occupied the full basement area of the two-storey house, which had a couple living upstairs.
“This one was definitely on the larger side of [drug labs that have been busted in Greater Vancouver].”
A major public safety concern is not merely the chemicals to produce the drugs, but the large volume of toxic waste byproduct, said McLaughlin, media liaison in B.C. for the RCMP federal drug program.
“The chemicals that mix are dangerous — flammable, even explosive and toxic,” he said.
“When you’ve got the finished product, for every one kilogram of methamphetamine, you’re looking at six kilograms of toxic byproduct. For ecstasy, it’s even worse — one kilogram of finished product [creates] about 13 kilograms of toxic byproduct.
“These people aren’t disposing them, you would expect, in a government-regulated way.”
He said international meth and ecstasy traffickers love to set up their labs in Canada because, although it’s illegal to import the precursor chemicals, once they are inside Canada it’s entirely legal to possess them, unlike in the U.S. and most other countries.
“The people in this neighbourhood are quite concerned,” said McLaughlin.
“It’s an absolutely a danger. There’s an explosive danger and a fire danger.”
Park, who has lived on the street for three years, said the couple that lived in the drug house moved in about a year ago.
“We were curious,” she said. “One day many young people came and visited the house, but we don’t know them.”
McLaughlin said concerned residents should get to know their neighbours and alert police if they suspect something.
He said another reason to fear neighbourhood “clan labs” is the violence associated with the threat of them being ripped off by rival drug dealers armed to the teeth.
“You’ve got people doing this who do not care one ounce about the community they are doing it in,” said McLaughlin.
“It’s their cover.”