Dad worries about meth lab effects

Man's sons feel ill from fumes in raided lab; physician predicts no long-term effects

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

Brian Fronimos was 19 when his mother moved the family from California to Alaska eight years ago to get away from drugs and crime. The irony is not lost on the single father of two children.

Last week, law enforcement officers raided a methamphetamine laboratory set up in the ground floor apartment of the two-story house on Back Loop Road where Fronimos lives with his sons, ages 5 and 1.

"My mom moved us out of California to get away from this kind of thing," Fronimos said in an interview. "Our quiet, pristine town is fading, losing its serenity. I'd recommend to people that they know who their neighbors are - even in Juneau."

The raid was spurred by a phone call from Fronimos to his landlord in Washington state. He told her that fumes from the ground floor unit were making his sons ill. She suspected a meth lab and called the police.

The Southeast Alaska Narcotics Enforcement Team (SEANET) arrested Vicki Lutich, 26, and Ryan Emerick, 24, and charged them with reckless endangerment for allegedly compromising the health of Fronimos' family.

Fronimos finds it hard to forgive the people accused of setting up the lab that made his sons, whose names he asked not be published, ill.

"It enrages me that (they) had so little respect for other people," Fronimos said.

"The officer from SEANET told me we were sitting on a potential bomb. I told them I would like to have five minutes with (the suspects), but they wouldn't let me," Fronimos said. "My fuse is real long until it comes to my kids and my family."

Fronimos, 27, a construction worker with Wright Services Inc., moved into the upstairs apartment in August.

"We loved the house. It has so much room and a huge front yard that I was landscaping and re-seeding," he said.

About three weeks ago unidentifiable fumes began making his boys nauseated. At first Fronimos thought something was wrong with the house. Then he suspected the fumes were rising, and questioned the downstairs tenants.

"He (Emerick) said she (Lutich) had spilled ammonia," Fronimos explained. "But it was real strong fumes. You'd walk in the house, and your vision instantly went cloudy. We began going to the mall, going driving, rather than being home. ...

"I'm glad SEANET acted so quickly. I'm glad they didn't wait and do surveillance, because we would have had to breathe this stuff any longer."

When Fronimos took his boys to a physician, the district attorney's office faxed over the formula used by the lab. The physician faxed it to a toxin control specialist at the University of Washington, who said it contained "nothing you wouldn't find in a high school lab." Fronimos said his physician was told by the toxin specialist that there should be no long-term effects.

That didn't soothe the anxious Fronimos, who feared for his sons' developing brain cells. And it didn't soothe neighbors who were concerned about the fumes created by the landlord's burning of contaminated materials.

District Attorney Rick Svobodny said Wednesday his office directed the landlord to a 35- to 40-page Web site of cleanup recommendations.

"We did not tell her to burn the material," he said.

"Our plan in Juneau is that all material that we obtain is destroyed through burning, but burned in an enclosed bio-hazard furnace," he said.

"The people involved (who live near meth labs) don't have a clue, but this is a real health hazard," said Mary Richmond, nurse manager for Juneau's Public Health Center.

Richmond said the most common chemical emitted by methamphetamine laboratories is methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), used industrially as a legal additive to unleaded gasoline.

According to Centers for Disease Control bulletins that Richmond browsed on a Web site, breathing MTBE for short periods can cause nausea, nose and throat irritation, headaches and mental confusion. The site says little about long-term exposure to MTBE, but does state it does not build up in plants and animals.

In May, the Alaska Legislature approved House Bill 3, tightening laws against possessing ingredients for methamphetamine and allowing enforcement agencies to shut down clandestine labs before they actually produce drugs. As the bill was being debated, one of its sponsors, Rep. Tom Brice, a Fairbanks Democrat, noted the danger that labs may explode and injure innocent bystanders or residents.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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