CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A federal program that funds cleanups of hazardous methamphetamine labs has cut off the money and affected law enforcement agencies are trying to figure out where to turn for help.
Tennessee Meth Task Force chief Tommy Farmer said there were about 2,100 meth labs busted in the state last year — with each cleanup costing $2,500 on average — and the total is projected to increase this year.
Farmer said law enforcement agencies for more than a decade have used grant money from the federal community oriented policing services to pay for disposal of the toxic, potentially explosive materials used in making the addictive stimulant. He said Tennessee alone is losing about $5 million and there could be other cuts related to meth enforcement ahead.
“Somebody is going to have to come up with some emergency funds somewhere,” Farmer said.
Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rusty Payne said in an e-mail statement Wednesday that “DEA anticipates that funding for the cleanup of meth labs will be exhausted this week.”
He said any decisions about future funding rests with Congress.
The labs leave behind hazardous chemicals and toxins that can linger for days if workers in hazmat suits don’t clean up contaminated areas and remove the materials.
“You can’t leave it there,” Farmer said. “You are looking at number one a potential hazard, possibly to a child, or if it explodes. They are toxic. They are explosive. They are contaminated.”
Farmer said $2,500 is “just removal costs” alone, adding “then you have the cleanup cost for the residence or car.”
He said some states have started using explosive-proof containers that can be arranged in regional pods for temporary disposal of the contaminated drug-making equipment. He said starting a container program in Tennessee could be considerably cheaper than dispatching a contractor every time a lab is busted.
“We are looking at that,” Farmer said.
In Springfield, Mo., police Cpl. Matt Brown said the department has received notice about the cutoff of federal funds for meth lab cleanups and is deciding what to do. Brown said the community is at times “number one in the nation” in the number of meth labs and will possibly join with other police agencies already participating in a state disposal system that uses bunkers.
“We just received information that it was going to change,” Brown said.
In McMinn County, where investigators in 2010 busted 161 meth labs — the most of any county — Sheriff Joe Guy said in a Wednesday statement that the cost of cleanups “may likely fall on already financially burdened counties.”
Law enforcement officials have attributed an increase in people making meth to the simpler “shake-and-bake” method that involves mixing ingredients in a soft drink bottle.
“It has made meth much more accessible again,” White County Detective Chris Isom said of that method. “It makes the meth cook about 45 minutes long. Now we don’t have any funds to clean up the labs.”
Farmer said there was a temporary interruption in the cleanup funding about 10 years ago until an emergency appropriation restarted it.
Farmer and other law enforcement officials are also encouraging state lawmakers to pass legislation that would require a prescription to get products that contain pseudoephedrine, a decongestant ingredient used to make meth.
Guy’s statement said he is asking all retail stores in the East Tennessee county and across the state to suspend sales of any pseudoephedrine products for the next 100 days.
“With meth continuing to be the statewide epidemic that it is, and with the elimination of federal assistance in meth investigation and cleanup, McMinn County feels that since we lead the state in meth labs we should take the lead in wiping out meth across the state,” the sheriff’s statement said.
Guy is also supporting the legislation to require a prescription for products such as Sudafed and Claratin-D that contain pseudoephedrine.
The Tennessee Pharmacists Association opposes requiring a prescription to buy the pseudoephedrine products and supports a competing measure that would instead create a real-time electronic system to track all sales of pseudoephedrine.