The Tennessee Meth Task Force reported 2010 was a record year for clandestine methamphetamine seizures in Tennessee, according to figures provided by TMTF Director Tommy Farmer. The 2,082 cases in 2010 surpassed the previous record of 1,559 in 2004.
“The prior record was achieved in 2004, before the Meth Free Tennessee Act and Combat Meth Act were passed on state and federal levels,” Farmer said.
Since 1999, approximately 11,149 labs have been seized by law enforcement. Tennessee is No. 1 in lab seizures and Bradley County once held the No. 1 spot for aggressive meth lab busts. McMinn County now has that record with 155 from December 2009 to December 2010.
The question now is who has to pay for cleanup? Not necessarily the consumers, but the innocent landowners, landlords or even unsuspecting homeowners who may not be aware of meth production occurring under their roof.
Steps were taken in 2005 when the Meth Free Tennessee Act limited sale of the key ingredient used in making the highly addictive amphetamine. That ingredient was the over-the-counter sinus medicine containing psuedoephedrine.
Farmer said recently “only one molecule is changed” during the cook’s process, resulting in a change of the psuedoephedrine chemical structure and producing the highly addictive and sometimes deadly drug and its toxic byproducts, leaving an expensive mess to clean up.
Cleveland City Councilman and rental property owner George Poe said he felt fortunate to have never had to deal with a meth cleanup on his property although he did reflect on one incident years ago when he began the venture into rentals.
“We had a fire in one of the houses,” said Poe, who has been a part of fire department and investigations for years.
“We couldn’t figure what caused the fire and wondered why it began in an area of a room where no fire should have started. The renter came from California and at that time, meth was not even known here in Cleveland so we eventually figured out, long after learning the process and danger, what could have caused the fire,” said Poe.
“Shake-n-bake” is the newest form of cookery.
“It’s quick. A cook will take a juice bottle, soft-drink bottle or other bottle and will begin to add the ingredients. In just a short time (approximately 45 minutes), the product is done,” Farmer said.
But, what to do with the residuals left behind. In reality, each bottle used is a separate lab.
They are oftentimes dumped in yards, along roadways, in ditches or in other public places, according to officials.
Detective Jimmy Smith of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office reported recently that four bottles recovered from an individual resulted in a $900 bill which will have to be paid from Bradley County Sheriff’s Office funds.
What contributed to the increase in meth production? Increased importation of psuedoephedrine, which has doubled during the past few years, and ways cooks get the key ingredient.
“Smurfs” travel store to store collecting the precursor ingredient and then deliver to the cooks for a price or trade. Smurfs are those who choose to buy their limits and with systems for tracking buyers who do this, data is investigated by drug agents. This usually results in indictment on drug charges.
Something seemingly innocent such as buying the OTC meds landed one student in hot water, according to Farmer.
The student was supplementing college costs with purchase and delivery of psuedoephedrine.
Farmer said the student “got caught up in it because it was easy income.”
The issue of methamphetamine is costly to individuals and taxpayers, whether it be criminal, health or environmental; many consider it a scourge to society.
Farmer said more than $4 million was used to clean up Tennessee meth operations out of $20 million in federal funding, which has now been cut off.
But, what about landlords and property owners?
Smith said cleanup on seized property can easily cost $5,000 — or much more — per location.
The chemicals are removed by certified lab technicians who have to put on protective suits and wear self-contained breathing apparatus. The dangers for first-responders are great. Now, cooks are placing marbles and nails in the shake-n-bake bottles, creating a virtual pipe bomb which can explode literally at any time, according to Farmer.
The chemical reaction with lye, lithium batter strips, pseudoephedrine and a reactant such as camp stove fuel, paint thinner or other combustibles create even more danger.
“Remediation of quarantined houses can cost $5,000 to $25,000 or more, said Smith, “This falls on the property owner.”