August 10, 2011 Liz Borkowski, MPH 3Comment

Jim Salter of the Associated Press reports that many law enforcement agencies are reducing their attempts to shut down methamphetamine manufacturing because they can no longer afford to clean up the labs.

Brian Freskos of North Carolina’s Star News reported back in May that Congress has generally appropriated $10 million for meth lab cleanup annually, and the Druge Enforcement Agency has administered the funds – but this year, the money ran out in February. Freskos writes:

For decades, when police found a meth lab, the federal government funded what was essentially hazardous waste removal. The process often involves people in hazmat suits and masks carefully removing toxic substances that can explode or leach into the water and soil. Removing each site often costs several thousand dollars.

The program is funded through U.S. Department of Justice’s COPS program, which took a financial hit under the current federal spending plan. And meth lab disposal has not even been included in the president’s recommended 2012 budget.

An AP analysis found that among the nation’s top 10 meth-producing states, meth seizures dropped sharply in the states that had depended on federal money and jumped in states that fund their own cleanups.

Cleanup bills aren’t the only costs that meth use has on communities, but they’re one of the easiest to quantify. According to Salter, cleanups typically cost between $2,500 and $5,000 each. “Because meth is made using a volatile mix of ingredients such as battery acid, drain cleaner and ammonia, only crews with specialized training are allowed to handle the materials found in labs. The waste and debris cannot be dumped in a regular landfill, only in specially approved waste sites,” his article explains. Warren County, Tennessee sheriff Jackie Matheny told Salter that they busted 100 labs last year.

In Oklahoma, the state picked up the cleanup costs once the federal money dried up – but it meant they couldn’t pay for the 20 drug investigators and educators they’d planned to hire. By contrast, in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Michigan, lab seizures dropped by more than 30%; in Alabama, they dropped 62%, Salter reports.

Where neither the federal nor state governments pick up the cleanup tab, the costs will fall on individuals. Meth cooks’ families and neighbors will be exposed to fumes. Rental properties where meth was cooked will be remain contaminated, either putting future tenants at risk of hazardous exposures or imposing cleanup costs on landlords. When property owners can’t afford cleanup, homes might sit abandoned, with negative consequences for neighborhoods.

The $10 million meth cleanup fund might look like an easy item for budget cutters to slash, but that doesn’t mean the costs go away – it just means they’re imposed on a smaller group of people, who are probably not well equipped to pay them.

3 thoughts on “Who pays for meth lab cleanups?

  1. Change if you lease a house you now ask for a 5k security deposit to cover potential clean up costs. Of course the question is why can’t local gov carry the costs they can raise taxes just as well. (plus start spending any money from drug busts on this instead of buying fancy toys for the cops)

  2. But…but…gummint spending is bad or something! Oh, and John Galt! If he was real he’d have created jobs for all those methheads and everything would be wunnerful!

  3. Homes that are contaminated by meth are considered to be hazardous waste sites by the government, however they do not fall under the protective umbrella of brownfield clean up funds.

    The owner is responsible for the cost of decontaminating their property, which can cost as little as few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more depending on the level of contamination. Innocent home buyers are often forced to let their property fall in to foreclosure. Some are forced in to bankruptcy.

    Something to keep in mind. Shake-and-bake or one-pot methods of manufacturing meth are easy to conceal. As a result law enforcement officials estimate that as much as 90% of all meth labs have not been found. Firefighters estimate that 15 to 25% of all fires are caused by meth labs. Clean up contractors say that 70% of the homes they decontaminated were never busted for meth. Currently, over 2 million homes in the U.S., contractors estimate, are now contaminated with toxic meth lab chemicals.

    Without strict regulations on the pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient needed to make meth, a bad situation is just going to get worse. The methlab clean up problem is more than a personal or government finance problem, it’s a growing public health crises. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, are all at risk of having their health effected by methlab chemical exposure.

    Please visit my website if you’d like to learn more about how former meth labs have effected individuals who have rented or bought contaminated homes.

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