Meth contaminates Oak Harbor car lot
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
April 14, 2009 · Updated 12:27 PM
The Island County Health Department has temporarily shut down a car dealership near Oak Harbor after tests showed that methamphetamine contamination was through the roof.
“It was contaminated to levels we haven’t seen before in the county,” Marie Piper, an environmental health specialist, said. “We’re getting higher numbers than we get in meth labs.”
Detectives with the Island County Sheriff’s Office arrested 41-year-old Nolan Brown, the operator of O&J Sales, March 5 on suspicion of dealing meth. They recovered 63 grams of the clear, crystalline drug from the office of the Goldie Road car lot.
After the sting operation, employees from the county health department tested the building and three cars for meth residue. Piper said she was shocked at the results. Everything was contaminated, and not just a little.
Access to the lot has been blocked off as testing continues. Piper urged anyone who purchased a car from O&J Sales and is concerned about possible contamination to call her at 678-7913.
“More than likely, there are vehicles out there that are contaminated,” she said, adding that children and pregnant women are most at risk.
While there is no consensus of what constitutes a safe level of meth exposure, Piper said the state standard is 0.1 micrograms per 100 centimeters squared. Anything above that is considered “hot” or contaminated.
A swab taken from the bathroom of the building, Piper said, came back with contamination 5,200 times the standard.
Piper said the three cars tested were identified as the ones that Brown used for driving around. The amount of contamination ranged from three to 25 times the standard.
As a result, the health department issued “unfit for use” orders on the building and three cars.
Piper said the rest of the cars on the lot will be tested with a high-tech piece of equipment the department has on loan for a day next week.
The dealership is owned by Nolan Brown’s father, Mark Brown. He emphasized that O&J is still in business and the lot will re-open after everything is cleaned up, possibly late next week. Brown, who’s not related to the county sheriff, has hired a state-certified contractor to clean up the contamination.
Both Brown and Piper pointed out that meth contamination is becoming more and more common; some of the residue found in O&J cars may have occurred before they came to the lot. Piper explained that the residue from smoking meth builds up on surfaces. The sticky, dangerous stuff is very difficult to clean off.
“Once we’re done, the lot will be cleaner than any other dealership that hasn’t gone through this,” Brown said.
The extremely high levels of meth residue in the office bathroom made Piper consider that there could have been a meth lab there at one time, but she didn’t see any other evidence.
“There’s a possibility that it built up from a significant amount of meth use over a long period of time,” she said.
Meth contamination is a growing problem, especially for people who move into homes where the drug was smoked.
“We’ve had a slew of homes, mostly rental properties, that are contaminated,” she said.
In one case, a pregnant woman unknowingly moved into a house where meth users had lived. The health department tested the home and found only a small amount of contamination in the bathroom. Nevertheless, the baby was born with meth-indicative health issues.
“There are extra questions to ask now when buying a house or a car,” she said, adding that a test for meth residue might be a good idea before families moving into a new place.
As for the criminal case, Detective Ed Wallace said he is going over Brown’s “convoluted” business records to figure out if the suspect had traded cars for controlled substances. If so, the county may be able to seize the vehicles involved in drug trades.
After he was arrested, Nolan Brown was sentenced to 30 months in prison for violating the terms of drug court. Also, the county prosecutor charged him with possession with intent to deliver meth in the recent case.
Mark Brown said he started the business to help out a troubled son, but the quick success of the lucrative dealership was too much for him.
“It’s a personal, family tragedy,” he said. “It’s really sad.”Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.