Breaking Bad – Explosion at NIST, Secret Meth Lab Suspected

In the popular TV show Breaking Bad, a high school chemistry teacher who used to be a research scientist and a former student turned drug dealer to produce and sell crystallized methamphetamine (meth), an illegal stimulant often “cooked” in home laboratories. Initially, they use chemical equipment taken from the school. Now, Breaking Bad emulators are suspected of having been operating a secret meth lab at the prestigious National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Unfortunately for them, their lab exploded, Chemical and Engineering News reports.

Meth, one of the most common street drugs, is a strong central nervous system stimulant that is used as a recreational drug to increase sexual desire, lift the mood, and increase energy. However, it has a high potential for abuse and addiction. According to a National Geographic TV documentary, “an entire subculture known as party and play is based around methamphetamine use.”

Dangerous and Illicit Activity at a Federal Research Facility

Crystal MethThe NIST is a high profile non-regulatory agency of the United States Department of Commerce, whose official mission is to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

The explosion injured a NIST security officer, according to local police investigating the incident along with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The security officer was treated for injuries and released from a local trauma center. He then resigned from NIST effective July 19, police say. They add that evidence recovered from the explosion is consistent with production of the illicit synthetic drug methamphetamine.

“The fact that this explosion took place at a taxpayer-funded NIST facility, potentially endangering NIST employees, is of great concern,” said Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Science, Space & Technology Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I am troubled by the allegations that such dangerous and illicit activity went undetected at a federal research facility. It is essential that we determine exactly where the breakdown in protocol occurred and whether similar activities could be ongoing at other federal facilities.

“We’re interviewing possible witnesses and letting the evidence take us just where it should,” said Montgomery County Police Department spokesman Captain Paul Starks, Science Insider reports. Starks added that no charges have been filed and no suspects publicly identified. The explosion happened Saturday, 18 July, around 6:45pm at “special projects” building 236, a smaller facility with laboratories reserved for particularly hazardous research.

Images from AMC TV and Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.