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Meth Cleanup Money Gone

For the past seven years, Missouri led the country as the number one state for methamphetamine lab incidents, including busts and seizures. That has changed as Tennessee reported 2,082 meth incidents in 2010, compared to Missouri's 1,960. To complicate the on-going battle on drugs, federal funding received by the states for the cleanup of the meth labs has run out.
States receive monies from a program within the United States Department of Justice known as Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), designed to help fight both the use and the distribution of methamphetamine. Without these funds, monies necessary for the clean up of meth labs will need to come from another source. Nearby Sullivan County is planning on putting liens on properties where meth labs are discovered to recoup the monies spent on meth cleanups. The property owner would have to pay the costs associated with the removal of the meth lab itself. This does not include the cost of any home and/or property repairs associated with damage caused by the production of methamphetamines.
According to Sheriff Mike Reece, Johnson County saw 17 meth lab seizures in 2010, up from nine in 2009. Reece believes that meth labs are on the move with the enactment of more stringent regulations on the use of Sudafed and other products containing pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in the production of methamphetamine. Additionally, some states have begun an automated real-time tracking system of those people purchasing these products. With a monthly limit in place, this would allow a pharmacy in Tennessee to immediately see that a customer had just purchased a product containing pseudoephedrine just over the state line in Virginia, Kentucky or North Carolina. In 2005, Oregon became the first state to require prescriptions from doctors for any pseudoephedrine products. In 2005, Oregon saw 192 meth busts before the law went into effect to just ten in 2009.
When the Johnson County Sheriff's Department responds to a meth incident, it is both time consuming and costly. A five-person team, all who have been certified, go to the site, each with their own specific job. Exposure to these harmful meth fumes can be hazardous to their health, and each person who participates in meth cleanups must have yearly physicals, including laboratory blood tests and monitoring of breathing levels. According to Reece, the cost to remove a meth lab typically costs $2,500 to $3,000. Without the federal monies, this is going to leave many counties having to come up with ways to find more funds. “ If we get one today, we're in trouble,” Reece said.
There is a possibility that states may see federal monies in July, but until then the current situation is dire. “We're going to have to figure out where to get the money,” Reece said, “We have to do it. We can’t just quit.”
Reece plans to address the budget committee of the Johnson County commissioners before the next commissioners meeting on March 17 in an attempt to find monies for the meth lab cleanups until the Drug Enforcement Agency receives more funding. “The county is going to have to figure out where the money is going to come from,” said Reece.
While the majority of meth lab busts are in the county itself, approximately six or seven have been found inside Mountain City limits. As Mountain City does not have anyone to clean up the hazardous meth labs, this falls on the sheriff's department. Reece has spoken to Mountain City officials about the possibility of billing Mountain City for his officers' time and the cost of the clean up itself.
When a meth lab is discovered, the property is immediately quarantined, explained Reece. The Johnson County Register of Deeds is contacted, along with the local health department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Once we quarantine it, we take possession of that property,” said Reece. With no money for the county to pay for the meth cleanup, the possibility of putting a lien on the property to recoup costs is not out of the question. If Johnson County decides to go this route, the process makes the homeowner or property owner responsible for the cost of the cleanup by a certified company. The property owner is given a certificate once the home or property has been cleaned and is rid of hazardous meth products. The EPA is then notified, giving the release to allow the property owner back into the house or property. Once the property is cleaned up, property owners will often have to deal with repairs to the house or property itself with costs ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. The company performing the meth cleanup will check various locations in the unit or property, swabbing different areas to determine how far the damage has spread.
This funding crises has not escaped the attention of Congressman Phil Roe. In a recent press release, Roe said, “Due to the challenges our local law enforcement have had while trying to obtain funds for methamphetamine lab cleanup, I sent a letter to the Director of COPS to inquire further. This funding is essential for our local officials, and I will continue to investigate so our local officials can get the funding they need.” In a letter to Bernard Melekian, Director of COPS, Congressman Roe acknowledged that Tennessee is one of the hardest hit states with regard to methamphetamine production and asked for clarification on the decision to cut monies for the meth lab clean ups if Congress has not yet cut funding for the COPS program.