Meth aftermath -- who pays?
CARROLL COUNTY -- Unless there's another find, Carroll County is going to end the year with a count of eight methamphetamine labs processed by city and county law enforcement.
According to Carroll County Sheriff Bob Grudek, two of the labs were in Berryville, four were in county jurisdiction, and two were in Green Forest. The busts have resulted in ten arrests, but that's just one aspect of cleaning up meth.
The latest lab was discovered December 10 in Green Forest when a caller reported a suspicious duffel bag in the crawl space of a house being cleaned for rental. After the Green Forest Police Department (GFPD) responded, Chief John Bailey saw the duffel was open and determined it contained hazardous materials common to meth labs.
Because it's an open investigation, the department is unable to comment on suspects at this time. However, both the GFPD and Carroll County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) have plenty to say about the impact these labs take on the county's communities.
Aside from the obvious human toll of lives that are ruined, and in some cases are lost, meth costs every taxpayer in the county each time a lab is processed and cleaned. Once a lab is discovered; whether it's a house, hotel room or an open field, local law enforcement must notify the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Until the DEA arrives, a team of certified handlers separates out the hazardous materials and samples for court. Luckily, the CCSO has two men who have gone through an extensive certification process to do this. Otherwise, the city where the lab is located has to pay outright to bring in professionals.
Bailey told the Citizen, "Even a small, 'one pot' lab can cost upwards of $10,000. Get four of those and that's at least $40,000 that comes out of a city's budget. We don't have that kind of money to spend in Green Forest, so we're lucky we have a certified hazard processing team in Carroll County."
Once the DEA arrives, they call a Hazmat transport company to move the hazardous materials to a location where they are eventually destroyed under government protocol. Although the DEA picks up the tab for transport, the bottom line is still taxpayer money.
But the worst financial burden may lie with the homeowner. Because meth-making materials like lye, acids, lithium strips from batteries and other materials contain heavy elements and fumes that can sink into carpeting and floorboards, as well as contaminate drywall and furniture, a house may need extensive renovation before it's safe to live in again.
Once the DEA arrives, they seal the door of a known lab, making it against the law to enter, let alone rent or sell the property, until a certified agency or agent has removed all trace of danger. The location is also listed on a public registry. The structure then must pass a state inspection in order to be declared livable again.
Both Grudek and Bailey emphasized that protecting the environment, the safety of those in the area and of the public was the number one concern after finding and closing down meth labs.
"This affects unsuspecting landlords and even motel owners," Grudek said. "A lot of people don't realize what's involved in ending a meth lab. Depending on the ventilation system, even meth cooked in a room in a public lodging can contaminate the whole place. That gets expensive to clean. It also affects real estate because that house or structure is now permanently registered as a former meth lab location and by law that has to be disclosed."
Grudek and Bailey both recommend homeowners and landlords be extremely careful to whom they rent. No one wants a family to be sick or a child to be burned by toxic chemicals left out in the open as they were in Green Forest. Being unaware that meth was being cooked in the rental does not absolve a landlord or homeowner from being responsible to pay the thousands of dollars it may cost to make the space livable again.