Meth cleanups could cost property owners

Region has had 14 meth-lab seizures requiring costly cleanups in 2012.

The owners of properties that house meth labs could be forced to pay for an expensive, thorough cleanup of those structures if legislation expected to be introduced in the General Assembly next week becomes law. What do you think about this?

Meth houses in Ohio now are cleaned out by local or state authorities, but dangerous residue often is left behind.

Methamphetamine use is a concern among area authorities. In a seven-county region that includes Dayton, 14 meth-lab seizures have been reported this year to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which facilitates cleanups.

Eighteen meth labs in the region were handled by BCI in 2011, up from 11 in 2010.

At the current rate, BCI will clean up more than 30 area meth labs this year, and not all of the hazardous sites are reported to the state. Counties and cities also handle cleanup duties.

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“Southwest Ohio is just off the hook,” said Scott Duff, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation meth unit commander. “It is just extremely busy in that part of the state.”

Federal money to help local governments cover the cost of cleanups ran out in February 2011. Congress allocated more funds in March, but that $12 million injection to cover the entire country is a stop-gap measure.

BCI now provides funds for meth cleanups, which cost about $1,800 each.

“We hope this gets addressed and gets funded the way we think it should be funded,” Duff said.

With training help from the state, local law enforcement agencies are increasingly saving money by doing cleanups themselves, although they still contract some out at a cost of sometimes more than $4,000. Two Montgomery County sheriff’s deputies are state-certified to handle cleanups.

Billing owners

About a half-dozen cities in northeast Ohio are taking a different approach. They are slapping tax liens on homes where meth labs are found, according to Lee Sergener, who is hired by cities across the state to clean up meth-lab waste.

“What will end up happening is the police will pay for it initially, or the city ... then the property owner, their taxes will be deferred,” to the tune of $300 to $1,200, said Sergener, of Warren-based Ohio Bio-Hazardous Recovery. “It’s a reasonable amount.”

After labs are cleared out by BCI or local authorities, a dangerous residue persists, Sergener said. That can pose serious health risks.

When Sergener walks into a recently “cleaned” meth house, he said, he gets a headache and experiences shortness of breath.

“I’m a 200-pound guy,” he said. “Imagine what it’s going to do to a 20-pound toddler.”

Proposed legislation would set new standards statewide for cleaning up meth labs, sending the bill for a second cleaning to the property owner.

“There’s a public safety aspect to it and there is a ... revitalization effort to it,” said Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, one of the bill’s authors.

“What we’re trying to do is to decide how best to clean up sites that were formerly used as meth labs so, one: the community is protected and knows these homes have been remediated and, second, to get these homes and structures on the market to be sold and reused safely so that neighbors aren’t overrun with vacant meth labs.”

Beagle is drafting the bill with state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley.

The issue gained momentum in February when a 17-month-old in Akron was found dead in his crib of a meth overdose. The Summit County medical examiner said the child ingested the drug during a period of abuse and neglect.

LaRose said the state likely will license cleanup companies as it does with asbestos and lead abatement.

The thorough cleaning could cost $5,000 to $8,000 for the owners of meth houses, Surgener estimates.

“This bill will pass and folks need to prepare for it,” he said.

He said standards could run as anything more than one-tenth particle of a gram per 100 centimeters squared being considered unclean.

“One microgram is enough to contaminate an entire room,” Surgener said.

He recently saw a house in which ductwork in the basement contained 11.3 times that amount.

“(In the past) they haven’t taken this seriously enough,” he said. “But now they have.”

‘Miracle’ chemical

Bruce May, director of the ACE Task Force in Greene County, said his county is seeing an upsurge in meth labs. It has handled 17 cleanups since the beginning of 2011.

Several of his staffers recently attended training sponsored by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office on how to use a new chemical called Ampho-Mag.

“It’s a miracle-type chemical,” May said.

Ampho-Mag is a powder that’s mixed in a five-gallon bucket. Meth-laden supplies are dipped into the bucket, neutralizing them to a point where they can be thrown away.

Greene County has hired a company to help with two cleanups this year, one costing $625 and another $1,800. Another six were cleaned up in-house.

“Last year we did approximately the same amount of labs for around $11,000,” he said.

Though the traditional meth labs are giving way to the “shake-and-bake” or “one-pot” method, in which chemicals are mixed in a two-liter bottle — sometimes exploding in the process — May said that trend doesn’t mitigate the cost. “If you have one as big as a house or as small as a bottle, it takes all the same ingredients to make it,” he said. “Those labs are just as dangerous, just as volatile. Everything that’s in a large lab you have right there. One of those little bottles blows up, it’ll put flames 15 feet in diameter all around you.

“Everything you make meth with is hazardous waste.”

Staff writer Kelli Wynn contributed to this report.

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