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New containers for toxic meth waste could save money

As meth lab busts increase across Ohio, so does the price tag of cleaning up the toxic stew left behind, which totals hundreds of thousands of dollars across the state.

One initiative announced Monday aims to bring down this cost by having local governments drop off dangerous waste they don’t have the resources to clean up in new industrial-strength containers such as one in Lebanon, instead of hiring an outside company to dispose of it for up to $2,500 per case.

“In a time where very few law enforcement agencies have officers to spare, these containers will help not only save money, but also save the valuable time that officers spend guarding drug cleanup scenes,” said Ohio Attorney General Mke DeWine. “This will help get them back on the streets faster so that they can investigate their next case.”

Ohio law enforcement agencies reported 770 meth lab seizures so far this fiscal year, which ends this month, compared to 607 labs the previous year. This is according to self-reported data and doesn’t include all Ohio counties.

In a nine-county area in southwest Ohio there were 58 busts reported this year, with Montgomery County leading the way with 18. Summit County, home to Akron, had 230 busts this year, nearly four times the closest runner-up.

Some of these labs could be neutralized by trained officers. But others can’t, such as a large operation outside of Xenia busted last March that included several large anhydrous ammonia tanks. Greene County’s tab to hire a contractor to haul away the waste: $1,800.

In the future, trained officers will be able to transport the chemicals to large holding containers installed at three Highway Patrol posts in Ohio, including the one in Lebanon, as well as a police impound lot in Columbus and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency will then hire someone to clean out the bins at a lower price.

“It decreases the need for taxpayer money to clean up meth labs,” said Bruce May, drug task force director in Greene County.

The containers are expected to be up and running within the next few months. So far, BCI has trained approximately 100 officers on operating the units.

Scott Duff, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification meth unit commander, said a meth container program in Kentucky saved the federal government $3 million over four years, though Kentucky sees more meth production than Ohio.

“I think in Ohio we’re going to see some of that,” he said.

There will be five containers across the state. OHP locations also include Athens and Canton. Each can store up to 220 pounds of chemicals. They will be located in secure, monitored areas and emptied on a regular basis, according to state officials.

“Even though the chance of an explosion is minimal, we made sure to locate these units in secure locations that are also in areas situated away from the general public,” said DeWine. “All of the chemicals stored in the units will have already been stabilized by law enforcement, and the containers have blast wall protection as an extra precaution.”

The units cost about $7,000 each, paid for through a grant from the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

DeWine said one major reason for the increase in meth labs is the popularity of the “one pot” methamphetamine cooking method, which makes it easier and cheaper for an addict to make meth. Local agencies can clean up a small one-pot operation, but often they find dozens of them at one site.

“Practically all of our labs here recently have been one pot,” said May.

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