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A toxic mess

Proposal would set meth lab cleanup standards



It can be smoked, snorted or injected and recipes are only a Google search away. What's more, all the necessary ingredients for methamphetamine production can be rounded up in a trip to Wal-Mart.

Known on the street as meth, ice, crystal and speed, it is the do-it-yourself drug of the new millennium. Last year, state and federal drug enforcement agencies busted 468 meth labs in Colorado. Of these, 157 were the work of the Metro Vice Narcotics and Intelligence (Metro VNI) task force, an agency composed of the police departments of Colorado Springs and Fountain and the sheriff's offices of El Paso and Teller counties.

"We do more meth labs than any other agency in the state," said Colorado Springs Police Department Sgt. Terry Curry. "We hope to do 200 this year." So far, Curry and company have busted 102 labs.

Meth labs have been found in motel bathtubs, car trunks and in the kitchens of homes where small children are often present.

And, nearly every lab leaves behind a site that is a toxic waste dump unto itself because the lethal chemicals involved in the production embed themselves in the walls and carpet.

But unlike actual toxic waste sites, no regulatory agency or standards guide their cleanup. And unlike the presence of lead paint, property owners are not legally required to inform renters that their future homes were once meth labs.

"It's kinda like having a dead body or anything else in there; you don't have to tell," said Jamie Glonek of the Colorado Apartment Association, an organization of 1,600 Colorado landlords that recently opposed a bill to standardize meth lab cleanup.

Meth cleanup is a costly business that can require the removal of toxic carpet and plaster, even concrete. According to Glonek, such extensive cleanup is not covered by insurance and can run a property owner up to $30,000.

Last fall, state Rep. Lois Tochtrop, a Democrat from Westminster, proposed legislation to set cleanup standards in Colorado. Opposed by landlord lobbying groups like Glonek's, the bill died in the House of Representatives.

"Everyone wants a standard to clean up a meth lab; the problem is there's no scientific data that supports any standards that are put in place," said Glonek, who called the proposed legislation's requirements vague and said it would have permitted municipalities to impose different air quality standards. "Yes, you can clean it up but clean it up to what standard?"

Tom Wood, El Paso County Department of Health's environmental quality program manager, concedes that meth lab cleanup is not backed by hard scientific standards. Nevertheless, he believes that returning a home or apartment to its previous air quality level is a viable goal and a public-health mandate.

"If you go into a house that uses [the cheapest] method of production, everything in that house is coated in iodine." Iodine in high concentration, Wood explained, can result in thyroid impairment.

The effort to pass cleanup legislation has not seen its last breath. Next year, Mark Cloer, a Republican who represents much of southeastern Colorado Springs, plans to introduce another bill that would require landlords to clean up former meth labs. However, unlike this year's failed effort, Cloer's bill, he said, would reward landlords that clean to standard by making them safe from lawsuits.

"Currently they (landlords) can be sued whether they do a clean up or not, so there's no advantage for them to clean up," Cloer said. "Instead of punishing lack of response, we're going to try rewarding those that have made the positive choice. We're dealing with the scum of society that's manufacturing this stuff."

-- John Dicker

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