Local Governments Stand to Foot the Bill for Expensive Meth Lab Cleanups

February 24, 2011
by: 
Dwayne Page
Sheriff Patrick Ray

Federal Drug Enforcement Agency officials say they've run out of money to pay for the cleanup of hazardous meth labs. Now they say local law enforcement agencies must pick up the tab.

Sheriff Patrick Ray is one of many Tennessee sheriffs who were notified by the TBI and DEA Tuesday that local law enforcement agencies must now pay for expensive meth lab cleanups. "Tuesday, I was contacted by the TBI about our meth labs here in the county, that if we get them, we would be responsible for the cleanup of them" said Sheriff Ray.

"I also got a letter on Tuesday from the Meth Task Force explaining that the DEA Cops Grants, federal grants given to us for the cleanup of the meth labs, were gone. They (grants) were gone as of Monday" he said.

" White County got a meth lab and called for their cops grant number, but there was no number to give them. The DEA said they were not giving any more cops grants numbers out because there was no money. So they (White County) are now financially responsible for the cleanup of that meth lab. Also the contractor that we use here, that the federal government has contracted with, was seven meth labs behind in seven different counties, which meant White County was having to put officers there to stay with the meth lab they found until someone got there which ran into several hours of overtime" said Sheriff Ray.

DEA leaders released a statement saying, "cleanup funding will be exhausted this week. Decisions about additional funding rests with the United States Congress."

Meth labs leave behind hazardous chemicals and toxins that can linger. Workers in hazmat suits have to clean up contaminated areas and remove the materials. Federal law forbids these areas from being left untreated when found.

Sheriff Ray told WJLE Wednesday that while the cost of cleaning up these meth labs can run into the thousands of dollars, his department will not be deterred in tracking them down. However, he said efforts will be made to find ways to dispose of them as inexpensively as possible." A couple of weeks ago we got three meth labs and another one this last week. They range anywhere from $7,000 and up on the cleanups depending upon how big the lab is and what kinds of chemicals are there. They can be very expensive."

"We have people who are certified by the task force to go in and dismantle the lab. We call the DEA to get that cops grant number. The DEA then calls the cleanup crew and they come and cleanup that lab, package all of the hazardous waste, all the liquids and containers, and then they ship that to a hazardous chemical landfill somewhere. It might even be in a different state. Without that cops grant, we have been given a three page sheet with names of hygienists and cleanup companies which we'll have to contact to come to our site, wherever the meth lab may be. We now have to place the call, they'll come, and when they're done then they will send the county or city the bill on it" said Sheriff Ray.

"My understanding is that the City of Smithville will be responsible for any that they have. The Alexandria Police Department will be responsible for the payment of any meth labs they have. Of course with the county, we'll be responsible for any we have. As far as the state troopers, the state will be responsible for any they have. So it can run into money. We don't want the public to think that we're just going to stop working on meth labs, but we have to figure out a way to dispose of them and the cheapest way to do that", he said.

"I've called County Mayor Mike Foster, the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Charlie Parker, Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger, and Alexandria Police Chief Mark Collins and we'll have a meeting to come up with a plan for this. It's not the first time this has happened. Back in the late 1990's, we experienced this where the federal government ran out of money. We had a plan in place at that time for the procedures we would go through with when we got a meth lab. Maybe this time we could contact some of our surrounding counties and see if we all could contract with one cleanup company to maybe knock some of the costs down. If not, we can't wait until we get a $15,000 meth lab and then try to do something with it. We're going to try and be pro-active at the beginning and get it taken care of before we actually run into that situation" said Sheriff Ray.

Sheriff Ray added that he hopes this is only temporary and that the federal government will restore funding for this expensive procedure because it is a national issue. "I think it is a temporary thing. I think that the federal government will finally allocate the money for the meth lab cleanups because it's just not a problem for DeKalb County, Middle Tennessee, or Tennessee, it's nationwide. Tennessee, last year, got I think something like 700 meth labs so you can see that it's a problem across the state and across the nation. I think they will allocate us the money. Tuesday night, I e-mailed Congressman Diane Black and asked her to help us. We're a small county. We don't want to get into where we maybe stumble up on five meth labs and have to pay at least $35,000 to clean them up. We want to be prepared."

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