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Law enforcement agencies introduce new program to help with meth lab cleanup

KCRG.com, December 11, 2014

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cleaning up meth labs can be dangerous and costly.

That’s why the state is setting up a new program to help safely dispose of dangerous chemicals. The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Division of Narcotics Enforcement, or DNE, is behind the effort.

Authorities said funding for the program comes from the federal government.

Teams have placed storage containers in five Iowa communities, including Cedar Rapids. The facilities will house the remnants of meth labs. The state placed them strategically where authorities respond to the highest number of meth labs.

“It’s not just a city problem. It’s not just a rural problem. It can occur anyplace that you have the ability to transport something as small as a liter pop bottle,” said Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner.

Sheriff Gardner’s team is no stranger to meth labs.

“These days because of the one-pot method, we typically find less debris, less caustic materials. However, it doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous,” Sheriff Gardner said.

Labs can come in many sizes. Authorities in Jones County said a meth lab caused this fire earlier this year.

Dangers aside, the cleanup process can get very expensive for local tax payers.

“We’ve been pretty much inundated by clan[destine] labs and the average cost running about $2,500 to $3,000 per lab,” said DNE Special Agent in Charge Dan Stepleton.

Stepleton said this container would significantly reduce costs.

With it, local agencies won’t need to call a chemical contractor to dispose of the potentially dangerous chemicals every time officers discover meth supplies.

“By us picking up our own clan lab disposal items here in this area, and having this container system to store them in, we can store 10, 12, 15 labs in there. When it gets full then we call DEA, they call the chemical contractor, they come up, [and] empty it all out. Well, then you’ve only got basically one fee for transportation,” said DNE Special Agent in Charge Dan Stepleton.

Deputies and officers will soon start to receive training on how to safely transport lab items from the scene of the crime to the new containers with a designated trailer.

“If you can have a containment system in which to dispose of these items, then ship them someplace for ultimate safe disposal, that will certainly be helpful,” Sheriff Gardner said.

The DNE said Iowa averages between 200 and 300 labs a year. Stepleton expects this program could save Iowa tax payers more than a million dollars a year.