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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Meth Cookers: Domestic Terrorists Taking Lives and Costing Millions

Meth labs. I hate the potential danger posed by those who set up meth labs -- both stationary and
mobile. These dangerous operations threaten the life and property of countless individuals. I personally believe setting up a meth lab is an act of domestic terrorism and should be judged as so when criminals involved in meth operations are brought to justice.

Let me address stationary labs because I can find little, if any, information on the required cleanup from mobile labs although I believe a mobile lab is just as capable of creating the same risks.

Besides the potential danger of tremendous explosions and fires, which can injure and kill those in communities where meth is manufactured, hazardous waste and residual debris, generated through the cooking process contaminate the furnishings, interior surfaces, ventilation ducts, and the plumbing systems of structures. Substances such as acids, caustics, solvents, and flammable materials pose a risk to those who enter meth lab operations.

Methamphetamine is not only a destructive drug to the “cookers” and the users but also a threat to the innocent children living among these illicit activities. Those who believe in the sanctity of life have need to take the initiative and be on the forefront of the efforts in Ohio to assist environmentally compliant cleaning of these problem areas.

Contamination can occur in a number of ways through the skin, soiled clothing, household items used in the lab, second hand smoke and ingestion. The poor ventilation that results from attempting to seal in smells and add privacy increases the likelihood of inhaling toxic fumes. Exposure to waste by-products that have been dumped in outside play areas is also common for children living in and near meth labs. 

From research, it has been shown that these risks in stationary labs still exist even months a meth lab has been shut down by local authorities.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says methamphetamine has hit epidemic proportions across the state, especially in rural Ohio where investigators continue to find the remnants of labs strewn along back roads and highways. Ohio is headed toward the top of the nation’s list for seized methamphetamine labs, chemicals and dump sites, a new report shows.

Ohio ranked fourth in seized labs in 2013, as authorities uncovered 1,010 labs, chemicals and glassware used in the drug’s cooking process, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The unit broke down numbers in late March from the National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System, a database run by the U.S. Department of Justice. Data from the last three fiscal years show a steady rise in meth lab busts around the state -- from 375 in 2011, to 607 in 2012.

John Caniglia of the The Cleveland Plain Dealer, reported ...

The Plain Dealer“'The labs that they’re seizing (in Ohio) are the mom and pop styles,' said Ralph Weisheit, a criminal justice professor at Illinois State University and an expert on the drug.

“'The typical meth cooker doesn’t learn from the Internet or from a book. He or she learns from friends, from people. That’s why meth spreads like a disease, it goes from person to person.'’’

(John Caniglia. "Ohio moving atop the nation's list of seized meth labs, report says."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 02, 2014)

Caniglia warned readers of some unforeseen hazards:

"One of the issues that authorities fear most about meth is the garbage left behind. Many cookers carry their ingredients in a large box, mix them in a 2-liter pop bottle and grab all the product they can. Then they dump the toxic scraps and the packaging along the roadway.

"As spring comes to Ohio, many people will be out cleaning their yards and ditches. Groups will pick up trash along roadways. And that has many authorities concerned about someone finding a lab. Some have become ill or burned when they attempted to pick up remnants of a discarded lab. Are you concerned about this and are you taking precautions?"

Caniglia also reported, "Many rural county judges in Ohio have handed down eight-year sentences for manufacturing and processing to people who have turned their out-buildings into miniature assembly lines. Will the federal government pour money into rural areas? Many say the government should.

(John Caniglia. "Ohio moving atop the nation's list of seized meth labs, report says."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer. April 02, 2014)

Summit County in northeastern Ohio has been a hotbed of methamphetamine production, leading the state in the number of labs busted, authorities said. The county sheriff’s drug unit found 85 meth lab sites in 2013, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

The Ohio legislature has debated at least three times how to ensure that any property where a methamphetamine lab is discovered is made safe. Yet no state laws or regulations have been enacted.

Meanwhile some communities are making their own laws. Chillicothe adopted a new meth lab law in March, 2014 modeled after 2008 legislation in Cuyahoga Falls in Summit County.

After more than a year of study, the Chillicothe had delayed a vote after Southeastern Ohio Legal Services raised questions. Among the organization’s concerns was a provision that required property owners to evacuate entire buildings immediately and board up the first floor any time a law-enforcement agency discovered a meth lab, no matter how small the operation.

Tweaks to the proposed law, however, addressed the council’s lingering concerns, Mayor Jack A. Everson said. Among them: The ordinance now requires only that the buildings be “secured” against unauthorized access. Everson said ensuring public safety was the council’s priority.

The new law will require property owners to reimburse the city for time or specialized equipment police and firefighters use in investigating the meth labs and for the property owner and/or the person who made the meth lab to hire professional cleanup companies to rid properties of any potentially hazardous materials before tenants can move back in. Those who didn’t comply could face misdemeanor charges.

The Columbus Dispatch.

Each year, as these hundreds of methamphetamine labs are busted by Ohio police, what happens with the drug residue and chemicals after they leave is no fully clear.

Proposed State legislation, sponsored by Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, and Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, would force property owners to pay for the cleanup and make the Ohio Department of Health create rules on how to remove the leftover chemicals. If the property owner was a landlord, that person could sue the dealer for the money spent on cleanup, according to the bill. Currently, the cost of cleanup, which averages $6,500 per 1,000 square feet, falls to state and local governments.

The financial risk to landlords is brutally apparent as is it evident most people cooking meth are not going to have a lot of money to recover. Still, the need for professional testing and cleanup services is expected to keep growing, experts said, as people become more aware of the potential health hazards of living in a former meth lab.

Landlords, hotel owners and others also are starting to understand the legal ramifications of renting homes, apartments or rooms used in meth operations without first cleaning them.

The cost of cleanup? Well, here is an example from costs seven years ago -- 2008. Tom Dubetz, who owns apartment complexes in the Akron area, was shocked when police busted a meth lab at one of his units in Kent. He said he didn't want to worry about the potential health effects for future tenants and he didn't want to be slapped with a lawsuit because he didn't do anything to clean up the property.

He also knew that the apartment would show up on government-sponsored meth lab Web sites.
So he hired Bio Clean to ensure the property would be safe to lease again. He estimated that he spent $8,000 for the cleanup and another $3,000 for new carpeting, paint and drywall.

(Rick Armon. "Meth labs spawn testing, cleanup industry."
Akron Beacon Journal. August 18, 2009)

Ohio is rolling out a federally-sponsored initiative that gives a shot in the arm to local law enforcement agencies. It's called the Meth Container Program, running now since the beginning of 2014. The state is one of ten states participating in this program sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Here is how it works:

The attorney general's office has placed five specialized metal containers around the state. The goal is to make meth lab cleanup safer and to save time and money for local law enforcement agencies dealing with this growing methamphetamine drug problem. The Ohio Department of Public Safety paid for the five, $7,000 units through a grant. Two more containers are planned, possibly one for the extreme northeast part of the state, the other for the south.

The chemicals are temporarily stored in the specialized container, located in a secure, monitored site  away from the public. All the ingredients used in the potentially explosive, drug-making recipe have been stabilized, but the containers have blast wall protection, just in case. A DEA-approved contractor empties the containers about once a week.

In the past, this process could typically cost thousands of dollars using contractors per-incident in many local jurisdictions. Now that cost has dropped to a few hundred dollars.

A big part of the program is education on how to package and transport the chemicals safely to the containers. "Some of the risks are a little mitigated,” said Sgt. Jared Collins, one of about 50 law enforcement officers from around the state participating in specialized training added. “It's still a hazardous work environment, but it's going to save time on the scene and time in protective gear."

(Chuck Strickler. "Ohio Launches Program To Make Meth Lab Clean-Up Safer."
WBNS-10TV. March 05, 2014) 

But ...

What about the huge cost in man hours, equipment, and other expenditures when a meth lab is found and local police, fire, medical, bomb hazard personnel, HAZMAT teams, and other service units must be employed? I cannot imagine the cost to the taxpayers. I heard an estimate from a local volunteer fire official once -- $18,000. I don't doubt this figure is fairly accurate for even a normal meth lab discovery. We citizens foot these outrageous bills. 

And, while the cost of handling the incidents can be tallied in dollars, the price paid by the traumatized and neglected children who live in homes where meth is produced is immeasurable. Also, consider the terror of neighbors and others who fear meth operations in their midst.

Here is a definition of domestic terrorism (18 U.S.C. § 2331) from the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

"Domestic terrorism" means activities with the following three characteristics:
  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
I think meth cooking operations are operated by domestic terrorists bent on endangering and destroying vast numbers of human lives while intimidating our civilian population. The mass destruction that can be caused by a meth lab is unthinkable. If criminals are going to continue to pose substantial threats to the public, they should be strictly prosecuted with stiff terrorist charges.

As a service to those who remain proactive, here are some signs for meth lab operations:

Spotting a Meth Lab

Many people may be living next door to a meth lab and not know it. Some of the signs that there is a meth lab in operation are obvious and easy to spot. In fact, you may have noticed them and not realized it.

Here are some of the things to watch for:

* Unusual strong odors (like cat urine, ether, ammonia, acetone or other chemicals).
* Residences with windows blacked out.
* Renters who pay their landlords in cash (most drug dealers deal exclusively in cash).
* Large amounts of traffic - people coming and going at unusual hours. There may be little traffic during the day and large amounts at night.
* Excessive trash, including large quantities of: antifreeze containers, lantern fuel cans, red chemically stained coffee filters, drain cleaner containers and duct tape.
* Unusual quantities of clear glass containers being brought into the home.

(Melissa Brunner. "Meth: A Recipe for Disaster." February 07, 2005)

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