This is why working to build a community is vital.
The drug-cooking lab busted by Columbia County Sheriff's Office investigators Tuesday wasn't tucked away in the backwoods. It wasn't set up inside an off-ramp motel room.
This drug kitchen was in the garage of a $562,000 home in the thick of suburban Evans, surrounded by hundreds of residences and just a stone's throw from the thousands of students attending the Greenbrier schools.
The three people arrested, including the occupant of the Riverwood plantation home in which a methamphetamine lab was found, weren't discovered because their neighbors noticed unusual odors or wondered about suspicious visitors. Instead, the lab in the home, and another mobile lab in a pickup belonging to one of those arrested, was found after three months of meticulous police work. Those details soon will be laid out in court.
Should the neighbors have noticed the lab, seemingly hidden in plain sight on in Riverwood Plantation? Suspicious activity often is easier to see in retrospect. The fact is, drug-lab operators continue to improve their ability to hide their illicit operations - which only raises the stakes for neighborhood vigilance.
Certainly, those Riverwood neighbors are furious about the drug-lab in their midst - and should be. This is a textbook example proving that dismissing drugs as a "victimless crime," in the case of methamphetamine manufacturing, is dead wrong.
"Highly volatile gasses are the hazardous byproducts of the chemical reactions necessary to produce meth," according to a statement of information compiled from Sheriff's Office Capt. Steve Morris. "These gasses are very easy to ignite and cause a great deal of damage - think of a gaseous form of dynamite, without a fuse."
A "gaseous form of dynamite"? Smack in the middle of a neighborhood of half-million-dollar homes, right around the corner from three public schools? Not only is there a very real danger of explosions from such insanity, but Morris points out that the waste products from meth labs are routinely flushed into neighborhood sewer systems and include lye, phosphorus, acid and iodine - from 5 to 7 pounds of toxic chemicals for every pound of meth manufactured.
No one wants a bomb in the house next door. No one wants caustic, poisonous chemicals flowing through their sewer systems. Yet those things are the byproducts of methamphetamine production, and those very real dangers are why it is essential to build neighborhoods in which the watchfulness of neighbors helps to ensure no one would dare operate a drug kitchen.
Scott Fernandez, Jamie Brosious and Cheree Granade are locked up in the Columbia County Detention Center on a host of very serious drug charges. Their neighbors, and the residents of every community in Columbia County, should take their arrests as a call to greater citizen awareness of all suspicious activity.
Their lives, and those of their children, just might depend on it.
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