Thursday, December 1, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Local law enforcement agencies in Arkansas and all across the United States got some good news recently when the federal Department of Justice announced that funding for cleanup of meth labs had been partially restored.

The grant program was cut earlier this year, leaving state and local governments with the bill for cleanup.

When the police shut down a meth lab, officers cannot simply walk away from the scene. It requires trained personnel who know how to handle and dispose of hazardous materials. It costs as much as $2,000 to clean up a single meth lab and sometimes more. If it is a large operation the costs can be much greater.

Training is essential to avoid injury. Improper handling of the substances left behind at a meth lab can cause flash fires, and inhaling the chemicals can severely damage your health.

Last year, before the federal grants were cut off, Arkansas law enforcement agencies received $925,904 for cleanup of meth labs. That was the fifth largest amount awarded to a single state.

Arkansas will probably not get as much when the new round of grants are disbursed, because the total amount of the federal grant program is not as large. Last year it totaled $19.2 million nationwide and the new program is for $12.5 million.

Spokesmen for police departments and sheriffs' offices in Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Oklahoma, Michigan and many other states welcomed the announcement. The abuse of methamphetamine has dramatically affected rural areas throughout the United States, straining the capacity of jails and prisons to hold convicted offenders and straining the finances of local governments that must clean up the lab site.

During the period when funding was not available, many law enforcement agencies responded by training a few officers how to neutralize and dispose of chemicals. In many cases they transported the hazardous materials to a privately operated disposal site.

Some states are setting up depots where law enforcement can bring chemicals and hazardous substances from a meth lab. If several depots were spread throughout the state transportation costs could be lowered significantly. When private companies get a contract to clean up meth labs, one of their major costs is transportation.

A spokesman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration said the agency was working on how best to disburse the new round of cleanup funds. He indicated that a portion of the grant funds would be dedicated to setting up containers in centralized locations.

The example of Missouri shows how placing containers around the state can hold down transportation costs. Missouri's Department of Natural Resources had already placed them in more than 20 locations when federal grants were cut off earlier this year. However, the effect on Missouri's cleanup programs was not as bad as it was in other states, in large part because the cost of cleaning up an individual meth lab averaged only $500 to $600 in that state, according to news reports out of Missouri.

In talking about the role of the Missouri Natural Resources Department in setting up safe sites for disposal of chemicals, a spokesman for sheriffs said that cleaning up contamination from meth labs is a job that combines law enforcement and environmental protection.

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