CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Authorities say methamphetamine creation inside hotel rooms is increasing as crews work to test and clean the latest contamination closure in Kanawha County.
Police and health officials have responded to at least 10 meth lab calls in hotels or motels in West Virginia since January, said Brandon Lewis, state program coordinator for the Clandestine Drug Laboratory Rehabilitation Program. In all of 2011, he said, only two or three labs were found at hotels.
Lewis said meth cooking inside these rooms is troublesome to owners and health officials alike -- and it's a problem that is not going away anytime soon.
Once a lab is discovered at a hotel or motel, owners must temporarily close their establishments while a contractor is called to test and cleanup the contamination. This process can take weeks and even months.
If undetected, the poisonous chemicals in meth can circulate throughout a hotel and can lead to respiratory problems, skin and eye irritation, headaches nausea and dizziness. Short-term exposure to highly concentrated meth can cause severe lung damage and burns to various parts of the body.
On May 18, Kanawha County sheriff's deputies discovered the most recent case at the Comfort Inn in Cross Lanes. Deputies arrested two suspects and charged them with attempting to operate a clandestine drug lab upon finding a Coleman fuel can and a bottle of nail polish remover, common substances used to make meth, inside their room.
The hotel remains closed until a hazardous-cleanup company can decontaminate the rooms to safe meth exposure levels, about 0.1 microgram of residue per 100 square centimeters.
"These cases are definitely on the rise," Lewis said. "People ask me, 'Why do you think they use meth at motels?' It's because people don't want their houses condemned."
Lewis said it's up to hotel owners to pay for meth contamination testing and cleanup, which is required by state and federal law. Most of the time, the hotel's insurance will cover the expenses, he said.
Those without insurance can apply for assistance from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, a $10,000 allotment set aside by the state Legislature for meth cleanup.
Lt. Sean Crosier of the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department said it's easy for police to detect a lab inside a hotel room by the smell alone, which is a "very strong chemical odor."