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Cleaning a fentanyl lab

A former fentanyl production lab northwest of St. Albert has been cleaned and is waiting to be re-opened to the public.
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White particles of dust containing mold and fentanyl float through the air while the team at Mayken clean out the home.

A former fentanyl production lab northwest of St. Albert has been cleaned and is waiting to be re-opened to the public. Mayken Hazmat Solutions was called in to clean the home located at 26023 Township Road 544 in Sturgeon County after it was discovered that it was part of the largest fentanyl bust in Canadian history. Dean May, owner of Mayken, said that the house was not the most contaminated fentanyl production site he has cleaned, despite being a massive bust. He said that on a scale of one to 10, this property ranked around a six or seven for the level of contamination. Fentanyl is a deadly drug and a few grains of the drug can be enough to cause an overdose. May said that as soon as they entered the property they could see the white fentanyl powder in the air. “This particular property had a white haze of dust pretty much through the entire property,” May said. The house was fully contaminated due to the home's furnace system. Even if the fentanyl production is taking place in one room, the furnace system blows the contaminated air to every room and so the entire home has to be decontaminated. “The homes are all contaminated as soon as they start the milling process,” May said. May’s crew of three usually takes around one week to get a property cleaned up and to have all the fentanyl neutralized. Inside the Sturgeon County home, the pill production was taking place in the basement, which was covered in green powder. The products were being mixed using two cement mixers in one of the bedrooms. The drug traffickers were not living in the house, so for the most part, the home was empty. May’s crew had to remove two air mattresses from the property along with some DVDs, a couch and a wall storage unit. Typically production sites have minimal furniture, although May said that in some smaller operations people do actually live on the properties. Once the items are taken out of the house May’s crew has to decontaminate them and dispose of them as hazardous materials. Along with removing any furniture, the cleaning crew will remove almost any other soft or porous surface in the home. All of the carpet will be removed along with smaller items like light switch covers or doorbells. “It seems fairly small and insignificant but they’re open to the atmosphere of the property,” May said. The cleaning crew said that they also removed some personal protective gear that the fentanyl producers were wearing while they were making the pills. May said that they found paper suits, rubber gloves, full face respirators and dust masks in the house. “They are obviously aware there is a hazard present and they need to protect themselves from it,” May said. For the safety of the cleaning crew, May and his workers enter the house wearing full Hazmat suits and they start vacuuming immediately. They set up a decontamination zone in the entrance way of the house so they can clean each other when they leave the property. To ensure the house is fully decontaminated, the air in the property must be completely cleaned. May said that they put the house under negative air and all of the air that is expelled from the property goes through HEPA air filters. All of the air is cleaned before leaving the property so the area around the house is not contaminated. May also has a product that neutralizes the fentanyl in the house. He said that he sprays the product on the surfaces and in every crack and crevice to decontaminate the home. While cleaning the house May said that they are very aware of the dangers involved and take precautions to stay safe. “As long as we are aware of the hazards and the toxicity of the product we are dealing with and we have respect for it we can control the hazard,” May said. In case of accidental overdose, the cleaning crew keeps one naloxone kit inside of the home that they are cleaning and two outside of the house. Once the cleaning crew is done with the house they use their own field testing kits to see if there is any fentanyl residue left in the house. May said that he is certain the spaces he cleans are safe to live in. According to AHS, there are no industry-certified tests to determine if there are any grains of fentanyl left in a home. Kathryn Koliaska, a medical officer of health at Alberta Health Services said that fentanyl safety is a rapidly evolving field. “There are some technologies starting to be used for detection of substances and certainly the door is open,” Koliaska said. AHS works with the cleaning partners in an oversight role to ensure that the cleaning has been done properly and that the workers are safe while they clean the house. “Approval inspection that has to be completed to our satisfaction under the public health act again to make sure something is safe,” Koliaska said. May said that he cleaned his first fentanyl production lab one year ago and since then his crew has cleaned a total of 10 labs. The home in Sturgeon County was shut down in July and in November four people faced charges related to the property. Police seized $4.3 million in drugs from the drug raid. The owner of the home, Phat Vuong, is not facing any charges. The house was one of five homes busted in the drug ring and the home was a suspected drug lab being used to produce fentanyl pills. The other four homes are located in Edmonton. At a press conference in July, Staff Sgt. Karen Ockerman showed off some of the drugs and money seized,  and said that it is likely the drugs were planned to be distributed around Edmonton. The police seized 130,000 fentanyl pills worth around $3.9 million from the homes, along with $1 million in cash – the largest cash bust in Edmonton police history. Police also seized four large yellow portable cement mixers, two pill presses and a 2001 Ford F-150 with a hidden compartment. Together the pill presses would have been able to make around 10,000 pills an hour. As well, 2.4 kg of cocaine worth around $129,000 was seized along with 1.8 kg of methamphetamine worth around $52,000. Police also found  834 one-gram packets of the cannabis extract known as “shatter” worth $58,000, four ounces of carfentanil worth $14,000, 658 grams of powders laced with fentanyl worth $115,000 and 100 kg of buffing agents used to make pills. In July, Const. Jason Wells of the RCMP said that fentanyl was not produced on site but it was mixed with other substances, like caffeine and sugars and was then pressed into pills. The county home is currently fenced off and the owner is waiting for AHS clearance that the home is safe for habitation. Landen Robert Wisbey (33), Waybe Bao Tran (31), Dennis Trinh (34) and Thinh Dinh (29) are all facing charges related to the Sturgeon County home. During the first nine months of 2017, approximately 400 people died fentanyl-related deaths.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta.
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