The smell of rotten eggs led police to an illicit drug lab in a Simi Valley home early Sunday where they found a bedroom full of toxic chemicals, explosive gas and jury-rigged electrical wiring, authorities said.
Police evacuated seven houses surrounding the two-bedroom house in the 3200 block of Hilldale Avenue, detained three people and called in a toxic waste-disposal company to dismantle what drug enforcement agents called a methamphetamine lab.
Police arrested the resident, Richard Chiodo, 40, on suspicion of manufacturing methamphetamine, unlawful disposal of hazardous materials, reckless disposal of hazardous materials and three counts of theft of utility services, Sgt. Bob Gardner said.
Gardner said Sunday's raid discovered one of the largest methamphetamine labs ever found in Ventura County. Methamphetamine is a powerful, illegal stimulant sold under the street name of speed or crank.
Police also arrested Kimberly Lee, 18, of Simi Valley on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine after she tried to cross police lines to enter the house, Gardner said. A third, unidentified 30-year-old Canoga Park woman was detained but released without being charged, he said.
A neighbor had called police at 11 p.m. Saturday to report a strong smell of sulfur, Gardner said. When firefighters arrived and discovered the potentially explosive drug lab, they withdrew and called police.
"There was an extreme, extreme danger of explosion, and it could have been real serious," Gardner said. "They ran just a little rubber tubing into the house from outside, where they tapped into the gas line. For electricity, they ran one single wire from a sidewalk electric junction box into their house. . . . And they ran a hose from the front spigot of the house to the water meter."
Investigators for the state Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement's Clandestine Laboratory Team also found a tank of hydrosulfuric gas, which is extremely flammable and 100 times as lethal as cyanide, Gardner said.
The lab was being used to make hydriodic acid, an ingredient of methamphetamine, said Thomas Holeman, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who works on the Clandestine Laboratory Team.
Holeman said team investigators also found ephedrine and red phosphorus, the other main components in manufacturing methamphetamine.
In the early morning hours, police evacuated seven houses surrounding the drug lab because of the danger of explosion. "The building inspectors said it's real fortunate it hadn't gone up already," Gardner said.
The team worked with a waste disposal company until nearly mid-day Sunday to pack up the laboratory glassware, chemicals and equipment, taking samples of each to be used as evidence in court. The rest would be destroyed at a toxic waste-handling facility, Holeman said.
Investigators also found two waste pits in the back yard, 3 feet square and 2 feet deep, where toxic chemical waste had been poured into the ground.
Inside, the walls, carpets and electric outlets had been ripped out and the floor was strewn with trash and discarded equipment, including a large industrial ventilator.
"There's some question as to whether the house will be habitable," Gardner said.
If the house is too badly contaminated with chemicals, it may have to be destroyed, he said. The Ventura County Department of Health Services will determine how serious the contamination is inside the house and in the back yard, he said.
Neighbors said Chiodo has lived in the house for many years, and that a constant stream of visitors recently made them suspect that something unusual was happening.
"The whole neighborhood had been expecting something to happen," neighbor Trish Carpenter said of the raid. "Always, you see people going in and out, stopping for a little bit and leaving a little while later."
The house belongs to Santo F. and Helen Chiodo, of Canoga Park, who were renting it to Richard Chiodo, according to a man who answered the phone at their home. The man declined to say how the Chiodos were related.
Evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes by 11 a.m., Gardner said.
Also contributing to this story was correspondent Marilyn Weiss.