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Debbie Dujanovic ReportingThe raids intense, the contamination debilitating. Tonight the new scientific evidence about meth lab exposures. Could it be the reason why so many Utah Law Enforcers are now sick, dying or dead?
Death, cancers, strokes, heart, lung diseases. We've documented dozens of health problems among Utah officers sent in to meth labs without safety gear. Now we're hearing from more officers. They want the truth about their exposures, an environment so chemically contaminated it alarms researchers.
John Martyny, National Jewish Research Center; “We actually destroyed all of the equipment.”
So dangerous it prompts a warning: meth lab investigators should wear air tanks, full protective suits. But for so many Utah officers it's too late. Old photos are their proof -- for two decades officers spent hours in meth labs, wearing only latex gloves.
Lt. Robbie Russo, Former Narcotics Officer: "Just going into those homes and smelling this horrendous chemical smell that would burn the back of your throat."
Charles Illsley, Former Narcotics Officer: "The first one through the door would take a deep breath, run through the lab, open every door, every window to air the place out and back outside before he passed out from the fumes."
Lisa Pascadlo, SLC Police Dept.: “I caught the odor and though, ‘Wow, okay, this is a meth lab.”
Salt Lake police officer Lisa Pascadlo investigates a traffic accident and stumbles onto a meth lab in the trunk. The exposure sends her into a health crisis.
Lisa Pascadlo: “I had vision problems. I had dizziness. I had difficulty maintaining my balance.”
She has permanent lung damage. Eyewitness news located 42 officers exposed to meth in the 80's and 90's to see how they're doing today. We found 24 of 42 suffer from chronic health problems or have died.
A look back at old video and they recall little training, inhaling chemicals for reports, loading them in cars, dumping them in fields.
Charles Illsley: “There have been cases where large amounts of chemicals have gone into a police department and the chemicals crystallized and the cardboard literally disintegrates.”
In a box of old evidence former investigator Charles Illsley spots a gun destroyed by chemicals from a meth lab. So what did those chemicals do to the officers?
We posed that question to 15 government agencies, and research groups. Every one told us there's no proof these officers’ diseases are linked to their chemical exposures. But our research raises red flags. We find reports linking some of the ingredients found in meth labs to the same diseases officers are now fighting.
At National Jewish Research Center in Denver we found one doctor uncovering new evidence.
John Martyny, National Jewish Research Center: “If you go in at the wrong time the levels can be debilitating.”
Doctor John Martyny and his team are gathering scientific data from inside meth labs they're shocked at what they find. Dr. John Martyny: "If a law enforcement officer were to go in during the cook, that's when the greatest risk is."
How bad is it? They suit up, and cook meth to find out. He documents exposures approach levels extremely dangerous to the lives and health of investigating officers. Inside the lab are chemicals and gases up to 75-times what the government considers safe for humans, like Phosphine, Iodine, Hydrogen Chloride, Ammonia -- documented to cause lung diseases, asthma, severe headaches, liver, kidney, heart damage.
Sgt. Jim Gerhardt, Thorton, Colo. Police Department: “If it gets into your lungs, it’s in there. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
The team takes its research one step further. After SWAT teams raid meth labs, they test for meth contamination and find the drug everywhere - in air vents, fans, appliances, carpet.
John Martyny: “Just because a law enforcement officer comes into a house and they’re not doing a cook does not mean they’re not inhaling methamphetamine.”
Since our first report aired we've learned of eight more cases of death, disease, or chronic health problems among officers exposed to meth labs. Martyny's team is now looking into the long-term affects of meth labs and officers.