Meth ‘cookers’ leave behind acrid aftermath, costly cleanup

When the acrid stench of battery acid, ether and drain cleaner burns Neal Smither’s nostrils, he knows he’s arrived at work.

Smither, president and owner of Orinda-based Crime Scene Cleaners, has mopped up after countless murders and suicides, but nothing compares to walking into a methamphetamine lab, he said.

“The whole place just smells like rocket fuel,” he said.

Meth labs are commonly clandestine locations in houses, apartment buildings, motels, wooded areas, even vehicles. “Cookers” use common household chemicals, such as cough medicine, that contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, to make the drug.

Each meth lab is a potential hazardous waste site, local authorities said.

“I’ve cleaned a meth lab in the cab of a truck parked on the side of the highway, in closets and in hotel rooms,” Smither said.

Smither, who said he has sanitized around a dozen former meth labs in San Mateo County, said more than one landlord has been angry when told what a cleanup involves.

After a property is red-tagged by a fire department, Smither’s crew moves in to remove and destroy porous belongings — clothing, cabinetry, kitchen appliances, carpets and carpet pads.

“Most companies will rip the place up all the way to the studs,” he said.

While the cleanup itself can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000, a homeowner can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in destroyed valuables. Many times, kitchen chemists abandon the property and stick taxpayers with the cost.

“If you have Mr. and Mrs. Smith living in a $5,000 trailer and they have $50,000 worth of product, you know they’re going to walk away from it,” Smither said. “Inevitably, the county is going to eat the cost.”

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

Just Posted

Central Subway project projected to run $55 million over budget

San Francisco’s $1.6 billion Central Subway is roughly $55 million in the… Continue reading

HUD secretary calls for increased deregulation after tour of Potrero Hill public housing

Carson calls for greater ‘cooperation’ between local, federal officials but offers no additional funds

Suspect in high-profile waterfront attack ordered to stand trial

Judge adds charge against Austin James Vincent for alleged criminal threats

SF increases public funding to help those running for mayor, supervisor

Those running for the Board of Supervisors or mayor will have access… Continue reading

SF supervisors call on health department to ‘pause’ planned relocation of mental health patients

Tensions high as protest by over closure of long-term beds shuts down Health Commission meeting

Most Read