By Dave Rogers
---- — ROWLEY — Hazmat crews wearing white suits and oxygen masks yesterday afternoon hauled away what law enforcement and firefighters are calling a working drug laboratory inside a self-storage unit located off Route 133, within a few dozen yards of Interstate 95.
Cylinders containing what could be illegal drugs, a microwave oven and chemicals were among the items discovered in a storage unit at ABZ Self Storage, close to the Rowley/Georgetown town line. Police brought in a bomb squad as well as firefighters and a hazardous materials response team. Several local police departments, as well as the state police, were on the scene.
John Dupray of the Rowley Fire Department said that an investigation began early yesterday, when police were informed that possible drug activity was going on in the storage unit. Police closed in on the unit around 11 a.m.
Dupray said that inside, police discovered what is being called an “unspecified drug conversion lab.” A hazardous materials team found scattered drug conversion products on the floor, and two cylinders filled with an unknown substance. Those cylinders were transported to a lab for analysis.
Throughout the early afternoon, emergency response trucks from the state Department of Fire Services Special Operations and multiple bomb squad vehicles from across the region converged upon the site as officials prepared for the possibility that explosives were also present.
“Bottom line is they didn’t know what was behind the door,” said Dupray. No bombs were found.
At the scene, firefighters were overheard saying that it was a methamphetamine lab.
“Meth,” as it is called, is a highly addictive, illegal drug that can be smoked, snorted or injected. Meth labs are dotted across the country in facilities as small as a motel room. It is relatively simple to assemble yet hazardous to operate, as flammable and corrosive chemicals are used to convert chemical compounds into what some users call the “white dragon. Among meth’s active ingredients is the over-the-counter drug pseudoephedrine used to clear sinuses. In an attempt to combat this misuse of pseudoephedrine in Massachusetts, pharmacists require consumers to present identification and record every purchase.
The production and distribution of “meth” received a boost in notoriety in recent years thanks to the hit television program “Breaking Bad.” The American Movie Channel program chronicles the exploits of a former high school chemistry teacher who was diagnosed with fatal cancer and decided to turn to a life of crime by manufacturing and selling “meth” with the help of a former student.
Rowley police Detective Lt. Joseph Gamache said a police officer conducting a routine patrol of the storage facility in the early morning hours noticed a suspicious odor emanating from one of the storage units. With that information, police organized assets from several nearby communities and the state before descending upon the storage unit around 11 a.m. Gamache wouldn’t comment on who rented the unit. No arrests were made. Police are continuing its investigation, Gamache added.
By 1:30 p.m. the items had been removed from the storage unit and crews went on standby as they waited for a Department of Environmental Protection team. Around 2 p.m. a DEP crew arrived and transported the items to the state’s chemist office for analysis.
ABZ Self Storage opened in 2007. The complex has dozens of self-storage bays located within metal buildings, each unit with its own metal door. According to the company website, the entire complex is surrounded by a high metal fence, topped by barbed wire, and cameras record the comings and goings 24 hours a day.
A woman answering the phone at ABZ Self Storage yesterday afternoon declined comment, referring all questions to the Rowley Police Department.
At several instances, Route 133 was briefly closed in both directions to allow emergency vehicles to enter the parking lot. By 1 p.m. there seemed to be little room inside the lot as more than 20 fire engines, police cruisers, emergency response trailers and a relief truck were parked inside. A Rowley police officer, armed with an assault rifle, remained in front of the parking lot to keep the curious from getting close and to divert storage unit renters from entering.
Gamache said since its opening, ABZ Self Storage has attracted little police attention with none of it rivaling the activity witnessed yesterday.