Pubdate: Fri, 29 Apr 2011
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2011 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Barbara Barrett


WASHINGTON -- Even as the numbers of small-time meth labs are
increasing across the United States, federal funding to clean up the
toxic sites has dwindled to almost nothing, and next year's
presidential budget proposal cuts the program entirely.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration notified counties and states
Feb. 22 that it could no longer pick up the tab to clean up the
dangerous chemicals found in methamphetamine labs.

The loss of federal dollars has law-enforcement agencies in North
Carolina and elsewhere nervous as they scramble to make up for the
shortfall amid an ongoing problem.

Since federal funding evaporated two months ago, the N.C. State Bureau
of Investigations has spent $140,000 to clean up 50 labs around the
state. Now that money is gone too - potentially leaving local police
and sheriff's departments to pay the bills.

"We're in a situation that we need Congress to step up to the plate
and provide this funding," Greg McLeod, SBI director , said. "They're
passing the buck down to us."

On Tuesday, McLeod and Attorney General Roy Cooper will ask the N.C.
Council of State to approve emergency funding to make up for the meth
cleanup expenses. If the reimbursement isn't approved, the SBI will
stop paying for cleanups, McLeod said.

And last week, McLeod wrote local officials around the state, asking
them to contact the state's congressional delegation to ask for more

"Please continue your efforts to encourage the North Carolina
congressional delegation to support the funding of the COPS
Methamphetamine Cleanup Program," McLeod wrote to local police and
sheriff's agencies.

North Carolina, like the rest of the nation, is seeing higher numbers
of lab busts. The state could this year discover more than 400 labs
that need cleaning up, McLeod said.

That pales next to states such as Tennessee and Missouri, which each
had nearly 2,000 last year. But the individual cases can be startling.
In recent weeks, a 4-month-old baby in Hoke County was found with
chemical burns - one of 30 children pulled from meth lab sites this

In another case, a man in Wayne County allegedly caused an explosion
by cooking meth in his hotel room, seriously injuring four people.

Presidential budgets in recent years have cut funding from the federal
Community Oriented Police Services grant that pays for new hires,
training and equipment, along with money for meth cleanup. Congress
has historically been more friendly to the program, reinserting dollars.

But as the federal government faced a shutdown earlier this year,
dollars ran dry. The DEA, which administers the program, at first
dipped into other pots of money, but on Feb. 22, it had to cut off
payments, a spokesman said.

"Labs have really spiked," said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the DEA.
"So as funding is going down, labs are going up."

When Congress returns next week, the National Sheriffs' Association
will return to its work visiting House and Senate members about the
need for federal dollars to help local cleanup efforts, which can run
from $2,000 to $20,000 for major cleanups.

Recent congressional appropriations have been about $10 million a
year, but the association thinks at least twice that much is needed.

"It's a community safety issue. It's very dangerous to our
environment," said Fred Wilson, director of operations for the
National Sheriffs' Association. "These chemicals are toxic, and
they're also very explosive. The money it takes to do this is just not
available in local areas."

Cleanup involves workers in white hazmat suits mopping up volatile
organic compounds that can leach into the environment, contaminate
living quarters and give children chemical burns.

Domestic meth production fell after a 2005 federal law limited
individual purchases of over-the-counter pseudoephedrine - a key meth

But since then, addicts have figured out new ways to manufacture the
drugs. Often, many users pool their supplies in a process known as
"smurfing." And a new method, called one-pot cooking or
"shake-and-bake," allows the drug to be cooked more simply.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat, blamed Republicans for
cutting COPS funding in the stopgap spending measure approved this

"We're going to hear story after story just like this," Miller said in
a statement. "Republicans in Congress had no real idea what they were
doing, they just cut at random."

And with the new influx of GOP freshmen, it's unclear what will happen
to funding for next year. One of those newcomers, U.S. Rep. Renee
Ellmers of Dunn, said that while she understands the problems, the
COPS program includes too much potential for waste and is the wrong
place for meth cleanup funding.

Instead, she said, the jurisdictions writing the cleanup guidelines
ought to be responsible for making sure bills are paid. She also wants
to look at how local agencies are conducting cleanup, to see if it can
be done more efficiently.

"This is an issue we have to deal with effectively and in doing so, we
must address how our enforcement efforts to halt and prevent these
practices are being funded and organized," Ellmers said in a statement.  
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