Virginia Responders Introduced to Device That
Detects Meth Fumes
Posted: January 29th, 2007 04:35 PM EDT
JON W. GLASS
The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
VIRGINIA BEACH -- Working out of labs in a suburban office park, a local
technology company is drawing attention from the U.S. military and emergency
responders nationwide for its chemical-detecting sensors.
On Friday, more than a dozen city firefighters, undercover police and
hazardous-material responders donned protective eyeglasses and packed into a
research lab for their first look at the latest development from Morphix
Technologies - a kit able to quickly detect fumes given off during the
production of methamphetamine.
The illegal and highly addictive stimulant is often "cooked" in clandestine home
labs, sometimes producing a potentially toxic stew of flammable and explosive
gasses. Exposure to high levels of the chemicals can be deadly; they can damage
lungs and cause skin and throat burns.
"We brought you guys here to show you what we're doing and learn from you,"
said Ed Locke, Morphix's director of research and development.
Police in Hampton Roads say they have uncovered only a handful of
methamphetamine labs but have seen an increase in the use and distribution of
The demonstration impressed emergency responders who attended.
"Just to give us an advance warning before we go in or before we get too far in
would be advantageous," said Deborah Crisher, a safety officer with the Virginia
Beach Fire Department. "We get calls every day for an unconscious person or
someone with breathing difficulties. We're going to be the first ones there and
have no clue what's going on."
So far, Morphix has sold the "meth kit" to big-city police departments in
metropolitan areas, such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco,
said Kimberly Chapman, Morphix's vice president of sales and marketing and a
founder of the 12-year-old company.
"We're small, so we've been hitting the big markets first," she said. "We
figured if we got the big ones it'd be easier to get the small ones, because
you've got references."
For Morphix, the detection kit represents the expansion of an increasingly
profitable commercial line that grew out of a Small Business Innovation Research
grant awarded in 2002 by the Marine Corps. The military was looking for a
low-cost, disposable product to protect troops from exposure to chemical weapon
Morphix developed a product it brand-named Chameleon. It uses thin pieces of
coated film that change colors when exposed to targeted chemicals. The company
sells Chameleon in plastic-enclosed cassettes that are mounted on adjustable
Morphix has developed eight different sensor cassettes, able to detect a variety
of high-risk industrial chemicals, said Bart Heenan, the company's chief
The reusable armband sells for $30, and the disposable cassettes go for $3 each.
In the past two years, Heenan said, the privately held company has doubled its
revenue and work force, which now numbers about 40 people, including about a
dozen chemists. Heenan would not disclose the company's revenue.
Morphix is working with the Defense Department to develop a device able to
detect both chemical and biological agents, such as anthrax, and able to
wirelessly transmit the test results. It could be mounted on robots, or
"unmanned ground vehicles," Heenan said.
The company also holds a federal contract to develop a protective coating for
garments worn by military troops or first responders that would n eutralize
toxic chemicals, he said.
Methamphetamine, an illegal and highly addictive stimulant, is often "cooked" in
clandestine home labs, sometimes producing a potentially toxic stew of flammable
and explosive gases. Exposure to high levels can be deadly. Morphix
Technologies' kit allows firefighters, police and hazardous-materials responders
to quickly detect the presence of the chemicals.
Reach Jon W. Glass at (757) 446-2318