An Explosion at a National Lab is Being Linked to Meth

A former combustion research lab seems to have been used for a very different purpose: cooking methamphetamine

Meth Crystals
DEA - digital version copyright/Science Faction/Corbis

At first glance, the campus* for the National Institute of Standards and Technology — a lab that determines the exact measurment standards, like how much a pound weighs, and holds an annual meeting called the National Conference on Weights and Measures — may not seem to be a natural home for drama or crime. But a recent event at NIST’s Gaithersburg, Maryland grounds could change all that: Science’s Juan David Romero writes that a NIST laboratory has been linked to an explosion thought to be caused by methamphetamine production.

On Saturday evening, writes Romero, a “special projects” building that had formerly been used for combustion research exploded, injuring a security guard and prompting an investigation. The explosion is being linked to the manufacture of drugs, though officials did not confirm exactly which materials were found on-site or whether they were being stored on the property.

In response, writes the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, chairman Lamar Smith of Texas is requesting additional information and a full investigation into why and how “such dangerous and illicit activity went undetected at a federal research facility.” Romero notes that law enforcement’s investigation into both the lab and the security guard, who resigned after the incident, are still ongoing.

Official investigations into whether, how and why meth was being manufactured in a NIST facility aren’t the only time the seemingly-staid organization has seen controversy. In 2014, the agency admitted it relied too heavily on the National Security Administration for cryptography standards — a move that allowed the NSA to insert insecure backdoors into a common random number generator.

*An earlier version of this article stated that the explosion happened in the NIST administration building. It instead occured in a laboratory building. We regret the error. 

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