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Meth clean-up system reducing costs state-wide as funding is restored

7:13 PM, Dec 13, 2011   |    comments
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Earlier this year, millions of federal dollars for Meth lab clean-up ran out.  That left most of the burden on state and local law enforcement.  A new disposal system and restored federal funds are making a difference.  While this is helpful, Tennessee and a handful of other states are leading efforts to find more cost-effective ways to clean up the mess that Meth labs leave behind.

"Those are 60 individual one-pot methods," explained Scott County Sheriff Mike Cross.  They are from one bust in his county this year.  They are becoming all-too familiar for local law enforcement agencies, like the Scott County Sheriff's Department.  They are also dangerous to clean up.

"Our Meth techs had to break all the material down. We stored them in five gallon buckets that could be sealed with tops on them. We had 11 at one time," said Sheriff Cross.

The Scott County Sheriff's Department, and every other local Sheriff operation in Tennessee, hasn't always had to clean up Meth themselves.

"It was a lot easier, of course. We could just call the Meth Task Force and they would come in and actually help us clean up the site and haul the evidence away," explained Sheriff Cross.

That service went away when $19 million dollars of federal funds went away in February, 2011.  Tommy Farmer heads up Tennessee's Meth Task Force. He said each lab costs an average of $2,300 to clean up.  Much of those costs got put on local agencies, who weren't planning to absorb them, when the federal money ran out.

"We had to act fast because it sent us in a tailspin. You open up Pandora's Box shifting that cost down to state and local agencies," said Farmer.

In Scott County, officers made 10 Meth busts between March and June when there was no help for disposal. They had to clean up each lab on scene, costing them thousands of dollars.

"That wasn't in the budget to begin with, so we had to scrape to find that money," said Sheriff Cross.

The Meth Task Force knew they had to step in. In July, they implemented the "Authorized Central Storage Program." Tennessee and 13 other states are on board.

"It's gonna require some additional training and equipment on our part. But, it's gonna reduce the average cost from $2,300 per lab to around $500 per lab," explained Farmer.

A dozen Hazmat containers are placed throughout the state in secret locations. Local departments use them to store Meth labs for disposal.

"We don't do away with the clean-up contractor. We still have them, but they come in how at a later time. They're not required to respond to each scene," said Farmer.

Farmer said the containers are already helping. In fact, lab seizures across the state dropped at the start of 2011, when funding went away because many local departments couldn't afford it. They go back up when the container system was put in place this summer.

"We knew that's just a reaction. Your number of Meth addicts and Meth labs out there did not plummet by the same number," said Farmer.

That holds true for Scott County. Through October, 2011, officers uncovered nearly three times as many Meth labs as they did in 2010, despite funding troubles. Sheriff Cross credits God and a series of community revivals for the increase.  They found a way to cope without funding.

"Once we gained that trust of the public, they were actually turning in their loved ones, their family members that were doing this because they want them off of this," explained Sheriff Cross.

While Scott County continues praying against the war on drugs, and trying to make room in their budget for unexpected clean-up costs, they're also getting some help.  In November, 2011, the federal government restored $12.5 million dollars in funds, money that will be used for the state's Hazmat container system to fight a drug problem that's not going away.

"We're going to be dealing with synthetically produced, clandestine drugs, forever," said Farmer.

The federal funding for meth clean-up that has been restored runs out in October, 2012.  Farmer said money beyond that is uncertain.

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