BOSTON (CBS) – They are secret, illegal, and potentially deadly. Illicit drug and bomb labs are growing in numbers across the Commonwealth.
The I-Team got a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Clandestine Lab Enforcement Unit. It’s a joint effort between the Massachusetts State Police and the Fire Marshal’s office.
State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey tells WBZ, that it is very dangerous work. “We’ve had explosions. We’ve had severe injuries, not to our guys, but to other people involved,” he said.
The specialized unit says it is seeing an increase in these labs, a large percentage of which involve home cooks using easy to get products with very dangerous recipes. In many cases, the labs are hiding in plain sight. Last year alone police discovered drug labs in Westford, North Reading, Watertown, Attleboro and Franklin.
Sergeant William Qualls, Team Leader of the Mass. State Police Bomb Squad, tells WBZ the unit faces other dangers as well. “We have to be cognizant of booby traps, trip wires or chemicals that were placed that might cause a reaction,” Qualls said.
Clandestine labs run the gamut and don’t just involve drugs. According to Ostroskey, the labs also include chemical, biological, homemade explosives and homeland security issues.
The unit has a number of meters and gauges that can detect and identify everything from radiation to fentanyl. Some so sensitive they can detect trace amounts of potentially lethal materials without opening the packages.
“We have the ability to identify it and neutralize it on the spot,” explained David DiGregorio, Director of Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Division.
Last year alone police discovered bomb making materials and explosives in Beverly, East Boston, West Springfield, Belchertown and Northampton.
Having the equipment helps, but according to this team, there’s no substitute for training and experience. “Some of the things we’ve seen here in Massachusetts hadn’t been seen nationally. We’re trying to stay ahead of the trends,” explained Sergeant Qualls.
Police say if you see something say something. Telling us many times they are alerted to these labs by neighbors who either smelled an odd odor, heard an explosion or noticed a lot of activity at the home.