HOLYOKE – Emergency personnel closed a section of Route 5 for over an hour starting late Thursday morning following the discovery of two one-gallon jugs believed to contain chemical by-product from the ilegal production of methamphetamine.
Since then, similar jugs have been found in various areas of the city, including six that were discovered behind the Signs Plus building at 62 Main St. Holyoke Fire Dept., spokesman Lt. Thomas G. Paquin.
“Needless to say they have been very busy,” Paquin said of emergency personnel and responding members of the Western Massachusetts Hazardous Materials Team.
Jugs have also since been discovered by the Department of Public Works garage and elsewhere in the city, Paquin said.
The Route 5 jugs, each about half-filled with a clear liquid, were discovered on the eastern side of Route 5, a foot or so from the inside of the curb, just south of Glen Street shortly before 10 a.m.
Emergency personnel closed Route 5, from Whitings Farms Road to Laurel Street, for about an hour while members of the regional hazardous materials team, clad in protective gear, tested the chemicals.
Holyoke Fire Dept. spokesman Lt. Thomas G. Paquin said the discovery marks the second time this week that gallon-jugs loaded with flammable chemicals, believed to be a by-product of meth production, have been found in that area along Route 5.
“This is a way of getting rid of the waste,” said Paquin, adding the creation of one pound of meth leaves behind about ten pounds of waste.
The first instance, which occurred Sunday afternoon, sparked a lower level response from haz-mat personnel because they were not fully aware of that nature of the chemicals.
Area residents, said, however, that they have sporadically seen such jugs appear along the side of Route 5 for months – if not years.
Walter Bara, who lives on Elmwood Avenue, said he spotted the jugs which prompted the Route 5 response about 7:30 a.m. as he returned home from work. Bara, said, however, that he has spotted such jugs along Route 5 about once a month since January.
“For what reason they are around, I have no idea,” Bara said. “But, I have seen these jugs before.”
Bara said he spotted similar jugs on Route 5 shortly before the start of the St. Patrick’s Day parade last month.
Alejandro Sanchez, who lives across the street from the scene, said he has seen similar containers placed along the side off the roadway several times over the past few months.
“It’s almost every week that they do that. They always put out two gallons,” Sanchez said.
Henry Ingersoll, who lives on Gilman Street, said he has spotted such jugs a number of times, some closer to the K-Mart Plaza along Route 5, for the past three years.
“But, I didn’t know what they were. I thought that somebody left water in them or something,” he said.
After testing the contents of the jugs, which were perhaps 50 or so feet apart from each other, hazardous materials technicians determined that the liquid was similar to that found in the same area on Sunday.
“It is consistent with the remnants of a meth lab,” Paquin said. He declined to name the suspected chemical or chemicals.
Meth manufacturers often leave such waste along the side of a road or near trash barrels in the hopes that a refuse truck may unknowingly cart the dangerous chemicals away.
“And that’s where the issue is, once it gets in the trash trucks it bursts and that’s where the fires start,” Paquin said.
Paquin said he is not aware of such chemicals causing fires in Holyoke. It has been, however, a big problem in Chicago where refuse trucks have caught on fire.
Police Chief Anthony Scott said that investigators, including representatives from the Holyoke police and fire departments, state police and state fire marshal’s office will meet later this afternoon “to go over exactly what happened and what are the next steps.”
The discovery of an alleged meth lab at a Bridge Street home in Northampton in October 2010 led to the indictment of three men and a woman on charges that included manufacturing a Class B substance and conspiracy to violate the controlled substance act.
According to a page on the state of Oregon’s official website, the production of methamphetamines involves a number of common household items — including drain cleaners, bleach, iodine, muriatic acid, toluene and over-the-counter drugs containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. The process generates a large amount of chemical waste.