You won’t find Albert Berriz or his team from McKinley making any plans to break into the Oklahoma City market. They’ve been there and done that.
Explosions and fires caused by tenants manufacturing methamphetamine in OKC were one of the big reasons Berriz and the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company pulled out of the local market. And they don’t plan to look back.
“It’s a terrible problem to deal with,” he said. “The fumes are a serious problem. The fire is a serious problem. Dealing with the contamination is a serious problem.”
Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug which can be made in a home-based lab. The production process can cause fires and explosions powerful enough to level large buildings to nothing but charred rubble. Berriz saw the aftermath of a meth explosion first hand.
“The building was destroyed,” he said. “We ended up rebuilding the building.”
While Oklahoma is a problematic area for the dangerous drug, Missouri, Tennessee and Indiana were the top three states coping with the most meth lab incidents last year, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Indiana State Police, or ISP, have a specialized team of officers to handle methamphetamine incidents. The Methamphetamine Suppression Unit investigates and helps to shut down meth production throughout the state.
ISP investigated 1,663 meth lab incidents in 2012, a sharp increase compared to the mere six investigations it launched in 1995, according to state crime report statistics.
One of the contributing factors to the staggering numbers is that methamphetamine can now be manufactured in a “one pot” laboratory as small as a baby food container, ISP spokesperson Niki Crawford said.
And although the labs have become smaller over the years, the hazards are still very large.
“These can create very powerful explosions,” she said. “Others are just a quick flash fire but the risk is always there.”
Meth labs aren’t only dangerous to the person cooking the lab; they also pose a great threat for anyone exposed to the toxins “cooking” off during the process.
“If one person in that building is manufacturing meth, it’s putting everyone in danger,” Crawford said.
Cooking meth releases toxins into the air that can cause serious health problems for anyone exposed to it including neighbors sharing walls with a unit where the drug was produced.
Some psychological signs of meth exposure include excessive excitation, irritability, anxiety, panic coupled with paranoia, severe depression, psychotic or violent behavior, a false sense of confidence or power, and being extremely awake followed by long periods of sleep, according to an ISP fact sheet.
Police say people responsible for meth manufacturing don't fit a specific description, but behavioral signs can help tip off property managers to what may be happening behind closed doors.
A strong chemical smell is usually the biggest warning sign to neighbors and property managers that a meth lab may be in the works.
Remnants of camping fuel, coffee filters with white or red residue, cold tablets, lithium batteries and drain cleaner being thrown in the trash are also signs of meth production, Crawford said.
Berriz said he began educating his on-site staffs in problematic areas after a meth lab exploded and destroyed an apartment building in 1999.
“I got a call because we had a fire,” he said. “As we did research, we found out right away what it was because the police were involved. The individuals that were involved got arrested but the building was burned down.”
Eventually, the problem became more of a burden and caused McKinley to leave the market and focus on their properties in 25 other states.
"In all those markets right now, currently, we don't have meth lab issues," he said. "And I haven't kept up with it either."