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St. Augustine motel meth bust is an increasingly familiar problem for local law enforcement

8:25 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- An early morning meth lab bust on Tuesday at the Days Inn near the outlet malls in St. Johns County highlights the growing problem of transient meth labs.

As First Coast News reported in November, meth is increasingly produced on the go: in rental properties, cars, and especially motel rooms. There have been dozens of meth operations discovered in motels throughout the state, but nowhere has the uptick been as pronounced as in St. Johns County.

"We certainly have seen an increase," says Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan, St. Johns County Sheriff's Office Spokesperson.  "There is no question about that. We are not denying it and we are reaching out in every way to educate our public about what to look for, how concerning it is for us and how dangerous it can be for our community."

A January bust at the Sawgrass Marriott in Ponte Vedra Beach showed that even high-end properties are targets.

The hazards of meth-making don't disappear when the explosive chemicals are removed. Even deep cleaning can't get rid of the toxic residue, potentially exposing guests and motel staff.

As part of our investigation into the hazards of former meth labs, First Coast News hired a cleanup company that specializes in meth testing and cleanup. We tested several properties, including apartment units and motel rooms. One of the spots we tested, the Super 8 Motel in St. Augustine is right next door to the Days Inn motel that was busted this morning.

The wipe samples our meth lab expert collected from one room at the Super 8 came back hot, in other words, the chemical residue from that meth-making operation exceeded cleanup standards in 14 of the 22 states that have regulations. Despite that, the hotel room was occupied when we arrived, and was rented to us soon after.

Jane Patel, owner of the Super 8 motel, says that her staff cleaned the rooms thoroughly. But Meth Lab Tech Danny Wheeler said meth remediation goes well beyond ordinary cleanup.

"The ones that were meth labs should not have been occupied," Wheeler said.

The problem is, there are no state cleanup standards in Florida. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has only voluntary standards. This means that hotels in the state's most popular destinations, St. Augustine, Orlando, and Miami offer little protection to unsuspecting travelers.

"It's very dangerous for a lab to be detected and then somebody not clean it up and family move in and everybody have breathing problems and nobody can tell you why."


First Coast News

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