Possible drug-related explosion investigated at federal lab

McLEAN, Va. (AP) – An explosion inside a federal laboratory in Maryland appears to be connected to a security officer’s small-scale efforts to manufacture methamphetamine, according to a federal law enforcement official.

Authorities who responded to the explosion Saturday night on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology recovered pseudoephedrine, Epsom salt and other materials associated with the manufacture of meth, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because potential charges are pending.

The materials indicate production of small batches of meth, the official said.

The chemical reaction might have been caused by the manufacturing of drugs, Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said. Police said that they are investigating the case jointly with the Drug Enforcement Administration and that no charges have yet been filed.

Laura Harris, a spokeswoman for the DEA’s Washington, division, confirmed the ongoing investigation Tuesday but declined to comment further.

NIST spokeswoman Gail Porter said the explosion occurred in Building 236 on the institute’s campus. The portion of the building where the explosion happened is not currently used for scientific research, she said, and previously was used for combustion research.

The NIST officer was treated at a hospital and released after suffering injuries in the explosion, and he resigned from his job, Porter said.

The officer received significant burns, said the federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The officer initially declined treatment and told other officers who responded to the alarm that he had burned himself trying to refill a cigarette lighter, the official said.

NIST, founded in 1901, is one of the nation’s major physical science laboratories. It employs about 3,000 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel, and the headquarters occupies a 578-acre campus in Gaithersburg, about 15 miles north of the nation’s capital.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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