Several agencies and organizations become involved when a meth lab is discovered

The Star Press.com  

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By: Andrew Walker

MUNCIE — One wrong twist of a cap. A simple bead of sweat.

It’s the simple things that are known to turn methamphetamine production into a deadly practice.

And while the health effects of using meth have been well-documented — paranoia, extreme weight loss, horrific tooth decay — it’s the production of the drug that literally leaves its mark on a city or neighborhood.

The meth cleanup process — which can range from a few days to the eventual demolition of a property — is time-consuming and costly, and is contributing to the blight problems several cities statewide are currently facing.

Discovery

When meth lab materials are discovered by local law enforcement, it begins a chain reaction among other organizations whose job is to secure the property and ensure it is properly quarantined before being deemed livable again.

Take the Feb. 17 discovery of a meth lab within a room at the Muncie Inn as an example.

According to court documents, Muncie Police Department uniform officers were dispatched to the motel at 414 N. Madison early that afternoon after a caller advised a small child was possibly within the same room as a meth lab.

Three adults — Jeffrey Wayne Burton Jr., Danielle Lynn Burton and another, unidentified subject — were found in the room with the Burtons’ daughter, who is younger than 5.

Also found in the room — in “plain view,” according to Muncie police Investigator Seth Stanley — were meth and “several precursors to manufacture” the drug.

The Burtons were both arrested on several drug-related preliminary charges, but the discovery of a meth lab in the motel room that day was just the start of a long process.

State Police called in

Once Muncie police officers secured the scene at the Muncie Inn, the Indiana State Police’s Meth Suppression Section was called in.

Though the goal of the ISP group is to “eliminate meth labs” through education, Jeremy Franklin, a state trooper and Meth Suppression Section member, said those efforts have been put on hold as more and more meth labs are discovered each day.

Since 1995, the Indiana State Police and other agencies have investigated almost 12,000 meth labs in Indiana. More than 1,400 were discovered last year alone.

“Right now, there’s just so many of them, we’re more in a reactant role,” Franklin said. “We’re there to investigate methamphetamine labs and to dismantle them once they are found by either us or another agency.”

Franklin said the manufacturing process of meth — which includes the mixture of several household products, such as heating fuel, lithium from batteries, sea salt and ephedrine or pseudoephedrine — is what makes it so dangerous.

“You’re mixing different volatile chemicals,” Franklin said. “You’re mixing acids and bases and solvents and water reactants.”

Introducing oxygen to the mixture too early by opening a lid too soon can cause an explosion, police say.

What’s also dangerous, Franklin said, is that unlike any other popular illicit drug, meth can be produced easily by addicts in the comfort of their homes or garages.

“They don’t have to go somewhere to find a dealer,” Franklin said. “They can go to the grocery store, buy the stuff to make it, go home and make it.”

Health department gets involved

Once it is called to a scene, the ISP’s Meth Suppression Section immediately notifies the local county health department.

Christiana Mann, an environmental health specialist with the Delaware County Health Department, said the department identifies what it’s dealing with — an operational lab, chemical glassware or equipment only or a dump site — before condemning the property until it is properly cleaned up.

“If they’re cooking in a shared property, for example, an apartment building or a hotel or motel, and it gets into the ventilation system, then those chemical fumes could transfer into other areas and it could be very toxic for the other individuals who might have no idea what’s going on,” Mann said.

Exposure to meth fumes can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, lack of coordination, lesions to the nose, eyes, mouth and skin and, in the most severe cases, death.

As was the case in the Muncie Inn meth lab discovery, the Delaware County Health Department condemned the room where the materials were discovered and the room next to it until both were property cleaned.
Because the Muncie Inn has individual air conditioning and heating systems for each room — and not a shared air unit throughout the property — the remaining rooms were spared from also being condemned by the county.

“The room next to it was also quarantined because they had a passthrough door that was not secure,” Mann said. “So to be on the safe side, that’s why we took the second room into the investigation.”

When the health department condemns a property where a meth lab has been discovered, it then notifies the property owner and the tenants living in that structure.

“Oftentimes, this come as a shock for a lot of property owners if they’re not living there or (are) renting it out and they had no idea what was going on,” Mann said.

Cleanup process

Before a condemned property is deemed livable again, it must be properly cleaned, generally by a state-approved contractor such as Crisis Cleaning, which is located in Solsberry, Indiana.

Donetta Held, CEO at Crisis Cleaning, said the cleanup process typically takes several days.

“They’ve smoked it, they’ve cooked it, and during the manufacturing process all those fumes have contaminated all of the structure items in there — the carpet, the padding, the drywall, the carpets,” Held said.

A cleaning crew must first go into a condemned property and throw out porous items such as carpets, padding and flex duct.

“We might also take out ceiling fans, exhaust fans, smoke detectors,” Held said. “Anything where the smoke from the meth can permeate into the little areas and you can’t really decontaminate.”

After three to five days of cleaning, each room in the property is tested to determine whether the methamphetamine fumes are gone. Only three or four days later, when test results show any remnants of meth are gone, can the residents begin living there again.

“Then they can start putting back in new carpeting,” Held said. “They can paint or do any repairs they need to do.”

But what happens when an owner cannot afford to have his or her condemned property legally cleaned?

It sits empty, Mann said.

“I’ve had homes where the entire structure has been contaminated and it has to be demolished just because the cost of trying to clean something was going to be way beyond what the property owner could pay,” she said.

And what about those homes not properly cleaned or demolished?

“All of a sudden you have a neighborhood with four or five condemned homes because the property owners don’t have the funds to properly take care of the situation,” Mann said. “And now we have blight.”

Contact reporter Andrew Walker at 213-5845. Follow him on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/AndrewWalkerTSP.