Remnants of toxic labs can linger inside a dwelling

Remnants of toxic labs can linger inside a dwelling

Source: Commonwealth Journal (Somerset, KY), March 28, 2012
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The toxic remnants of a methamphetamine lab can linger long after the arrests have been made and the site is shut down by law enforcement.

“You’re basically entering at your own risk,” said Stuart Spillman, environmental director with the Lake Cumberland Area District Health Department.

Pulaski countians are now familiar with the concept of a methamphetamine lab. News reports of lab busts in homes and cars are fairly common (the Commonwealth Journal ran an article as recently as Saturday detailing the discovery of a home in Eubank with 15 one-step meth labs). Even some of the ingredients required to make the drug that causes a euphoric high are well known, such as pseudoephedrine and batteries.

The toxic chemicals that combine to make meth pose major health concerns for all involved — from the maker himself or herself to law enforcement officials who are called in to clean up the site.

Although this only paints a minute picture of the meth problem in the county, the Commonwealth Journal has reported on at least three fires since 2009 that officials confirmed were caused by meth labs — one on Bourne Avenue in 2009, one on Katie’s Way off Slate Branch Road in 2010, and one at a residence on Perry Street off Stanford Street in Science Hill in 2011.

That’s why law enforcement officials must be certified to clean up such sites. The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department developed its own team to clean up meth sites in March 2011.

“Some weeks I’m not called out any, but there are other weeks I’m called out two or three times,” said Deputy Daryl Kegley, who is trained to clean up meth sites.

Kegley said he and others on the team have been called to roughly 60 meth labs — with a majority of those involving one-step labs — from March 2011 to now. That number only includes cases from which an arrest occurred.

The number of times the team has been called to clean up abandoned meth labs or pieces of equipment used to make meth is much higher.

“There’s so many more we get that nobody’s around them,” said Det. Brett Whitaker, also with the sheriff’s department.

Just last week, the sheriff’s department was called to clean up several HLC generators found on the side of a roadway.

“For every generator we find, there’s a meth lab to go with it,” said Det. Rodney Stevens. “We just don’t know where it is.

“It’s everywhere,” Stevens added.

Kegley said the clean-up team goes through very specific steps in order to clean up a meth lab. Protective gear must be worn due to the volatile nature of the chemicals used in cooking meth, and those chemicals must be neutralized before they’re removed and transported to a Kentucky State Police holding facility. From there, the remnants are disposed of through contracted companies.

But what’s left behind is a home that’s essentially absorbed all the toxins that go along with the meth lab.

According to information provided by the Kentucky Division of Waste Management Superfund Branch through its website, the cook process for meth results in numerous particles being released into the air, whether it be from the key ingredients used in making meth, or vapor from the meth itself.

Just how much damage is done — and how much of a health risk it poses to the property’s current and future residents — depends on the nature of the meth lab. The state has developed a tiered response system that rates the meth lab residence according to the severity of the situation. A Tier 1 property means limited evidence of meth manufacturing and contamination has been found, which only requires limited decontamination.

A Tier 4 property (with Tier 4 being the highest tier) is recorded if evidence is found of a mass-production meth lab where large amounts of meth are manufactured and large volumes of wastes can be generated, according to the DWM. That requires more extensive decontamination efforts.

Factors such as the quantity of meth made, and for how long, are taken into account in the tier response system.

The Eubank meth lab site was recorded as a Tier 3 site, according to Kegley.

The information from the site, including the tier it has been recorded as, is sent to the state by law enforcement officials. From there, the health department steps in — in this case, the Lake Cumberland Area District Health Department.

“Every time there’s a meth lab in a residence or a motel room, we’re going to get that,” Spillman, with the LCADHD, said.

Once the health department receives the tier assessment, it informs the property owner of the steps needed to rid the property of the meth remnants. A bright orange “warning” sign, often posted by law enforcement, must remain on the home until a clean-up company, certified through the DWM, is brought in — often at a cost of thousands and thousands of dollars.

A certified company is required because clearing meth residue from a home isn’t as easy as grabbing some cleaner and a sponge.

“It (the tier system) kind of gives us a little bit of guidance on what was found,” said Bill Everslage, with Bio Meth Management, a company based in Louisville that has been certified through the DWM to clean up meth sites.

Everslage said a majority of meth sites will be given a Tier 3 rating, even if there isn’t much information available on the nature of the cooking process there. The Tier 3 level ensures that all remnants of the meth and its toxic byproducts will be removed from the property.

Everslage said the clean-up begins with an air quality test to determine if a person can even breathe safely in the residence. Usually, the toxins have dissipated from the air before the clean-up begins, but if those toxins remain high in the air, the home is ventilated for at least 36 hours before the clean-up process continues.

After that, every single object with a porous surface is removed from the home and destroyed. That includes carpeting, furniture, clothing and other items.

“That stuff (vapors from the cooking process) seeps into everything,” Everslage said.

Then, the hard surfaces — walls, ceilings, and flooring included — are cleaned with special chemicals and water that is 225 degrees.

“We clean every inch of the property two or three times,” Everslage said.

Everything in a Tier 3 residence will also be given a coat of oil-based primer to lock in any remnants of the meth process.

“With the meth contamination, you can’t see it,” Everslage said.

Everslage said the law helps to protect residents from moving into a meth home that hasn’t been properly cleaned. A home that hasn’t been cleaned correctly can pose serious health hazards to a resident.

Everslage had good things to say about the area’s law enforcement officials, who are the first to get the ball rolling on informing the state of a meth lab site.

“It’s a good reflection upon police … because they’re doing a good job jumping on these and shutting them down and following through with the paperwork,” Everslage said. ” … They do a great job in Pulaski County.”

Local law enforcement officials hope they’re making a difference.

“We hope we are (making a dent in the meth problem), we really hope we are,” said Whitaker. “But the availability of pseudoephedrine and with how easy these guys can make it, it’s crazy.”

Once the home is found to be meth-free, the state is informed of that, and the health department lets the property owner know that the “warning” posting can be removed.

And the home has a clean bill of health.

Everslage has seen his fair share of meth sites across the state, including in Pulaski County.

“Its a problem facing the state and the whole country,” Everslage said. “It’s so big in a lot of different areas … It’s so easy for people to make and it’s so much cheaper.”

When asked if he responds to Pulaski County often, Everslage said his company alone cleans up between 15 and 20 sites on average a year.

“I was just there yesterday,” Everslage said on Tuesday. “And I’ll be there tomorrow.”

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