WIS Investigates: A former meth cook on his journey to clean up

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The State Law Enforcement Division receives a million dollars a year to decontaminate meth lab sites, and an investigation uncovered there is no documentation to show exactly which sites have been cleaned and which have been left untouched.

WIS met with a former meth cook about the hidden dangers his labs left behind, even though he's kicked his habit.

"I was a very caring person," said Todd McGill, a former meth cook. "I started using really hardcore drugs when I was 18 years old."

McGill was a drug user for 12 years. One of his passions was making meth and partaking in his product.

"I never really had a full-time job or anything as an adult," McGill said. "I didn't come out a lot during the day. I come out a lot at night."

McGill agreed to show us a glimpse of a life he's trying to leave behind.

Out of the shadows

"Being around it, I started using it and I picked up on it," McGill said. "I started making it within two weeks of starting to use it."

Room 119 in the American Inn motel in West Columbia is where his cooking career ended in February 2013.

"I looked out this window, and the cop was standing outside this window," McGill said, standing at the motel. "I ran to the bathroom to get rid of what I could, but it was no use."

McGill was convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine and was sentenced to five years' probation.

"I'd been coming here once a week to make meth," McGill explained. "It's $30. You come, you make $300 worth of meth and you leave. You're leaving the mess in their room, not in your house."

McGill estimated at least one meth lab operates at the motel each night.

According to SLED, drug agents have found three labs at the American Inn motel in the past three years. But there's no documentation from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, SLED, or local law enforcement that any decontamination has taken place.

Jay Patel, manager at American Inn motel, said they haven't taken any special measures to decontaminate their rooms, except for replacing the carpet a few months ago.

Richland County narcotics investigator Brien Gwyn said about half of the meth labs busted are in motels.

"Just because it's such a transient population," Gwyn said. "They'll move from county to county."

McGill admits he was also cooking meth every day in a mobile home he used to live in. WIS visited the home to ask the current resident of he knew a meth lab was operated there in the past.

Current resident Adrian Hernandez said he was unaware McGill used to cook meth in the house.

"I should have at least learned about it," Hernandez said. "Every once in a while, I'll get a smell, a weird smell."

McGill said the smell of lithium and ammonia didn't leave the mobile home while he was living there.

Landlords and mobile home brokers are not required under law to disclose if a meth lab was once on the property. Under state law, sellers, however, are required to disclose that information if they're aware of it.

"I think sometimes there's pressure put on the seller to not put down things because they think it will impact the property," said Morris Lyles, vice president at Central Carolina Realtors Association. "They could potentially lie about it."

McGill expresses guilt for the mess he left behind in homes and in the environment.

"Like the trash across the street, I don't know what to do. I want to get it cleaned up," McGill said.

McGill took WIS to a wooded area across the street from the mobile home, where we found the remnants of his many meth cooks.

"You see that thing of lighter fluid," McGill said, "that's an old bottle. I know for a fact they have chemicals in them that are not very good for the environment."

Chemicals, even those used in meth labs, should be disposed of the proper way.

"It can get into the groundwater, not to mention the vegetation," said Tara Kinney, a sheriff's department drug chemist. "A lot of these chemicals are meant to be disposed of in a certain way because they're so toxic."

It's unknown how many drug waste dump sites have been found or cleaned in the state. SLED tells us that no one is keeping track. After WIS' investigation, SLED said the dump site McGill was concerned about is slated to be cleaned up this week.

"It should be noted there is no law or regulation that establishes clean-up standards on the federal or state level," said DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley. "Therefore, there is nothing to be 'enforced' by law enforcement or DHEC."

With a million dollars a year from the state, SLED is able to hire contractors to clean up the gross contaminants found in meth labs. But, the money goes quickly, and they tell us there is no record of which sites have been decontaminated.

"It's been my experience that those environments are not fully cleaned to something I would want my home to be," said SLED Lt. Max Dorsey. "There are various reasons – some of these properties are rental properties, some are hotels or motels. I guess there's some ambiguity as to what is actually clean."

Lyles said DHEC has not given realtors guidelines for how to clean up a former meth lab site.

McGill said fixing the meth problem lies in restricting the chemicals needed to cook the meth, like pseudoephedrine.

If you suspect your property was the site of a meth lab, contact SLED. If SLED has no record, the agency can connect you with certified environmental specialists who can safely decontaminate the site. The price to decontaminate ranges from $8 to $15 per square foot.

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