With federal program banned, localities now pay bills for cleanup of meth labs

Posted July 31, 2011, at 10:05 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 01, 2011, at 5:20 a.m.

AKRON, Ohio — When Streetsboro, Ohio, police found a possible methamphetamine lab site last month, they did something they never had to do before: Pay for the cleanup.

In past years, the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services would have funded the nearly $1,500 job with money earmarked for drug lab sites.

But that money disappeared in April after Congress banned earmarks, so cities, villages and townships now foot the bill.

The cost can add up, especially in places like Summit County, where the Drug Unit’s aggressive pursuit of meth labs made it No. 1 in the state last year, with 63 seizures.

“Figure those at anywhere from $1,500 and $2,000 apiece and add it up,” said Capt. Hylton Baker of the Summit County Drug Unit.

The federal funds had been available for more than a decade, COPS spokesman Corey Ray said. Last year, $40 million was dispensed around the country.

No money has been budgeted this year, and none so far is scheduled for next year, Ray said.

One version of a federal budget that was proposed offered $10 million for meth-related activity through the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2012, DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said. Other budget proposals offer none.

Ray said there hasn’t been a huge outcry from local communities because some task forces have money left over from last year and have not had to dig into their own pockets.

Baker said there is no spare money in Summit County because there was no pool of money to start with. It simply applied to the COPS fund as needed, he said.

“I’m sure as things progress and we sit down, we may decide some of this will end up the property owner’s responsibility,” Baker said.

He said it is rare that the property owner is the suspected drug manufacturer; the property is usually a rental.

Baker said many sites that need to be cleaned up aren’t at a home at all. Debris can show up along streets and in parks and other public property.

Meth is a drug made by cooking ingredients, including over-the-counter medications. The cooking creates dangerous chemical residues that can seep into walls and carpeting, creating a toxic waste site.

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