Law enforcement taking step back from busting crystal meth labs

August 10, 2011

City Room and the Associated Press

Glass pipe used for smoking methamphetamine.

Police and sheriff's departments in states that produce much of the nation's methamphetamine have made a sudden retreat in the war on meth, at times virtually abandoning pursuit of the drug because they can no longer afford to clean up the toxic waste generated by labs.

Despite abundant evidence that the meth trade is flourishing,many law enforcement agencies have called off tactics that have
been used for years to confront drug makers.

The steep cutbacks began after the federal government in February canceled a program that provided millions of dollars to help local agencies dispose of seized labs.

Since then, an Associated Press analysis shows, the number of labs seized has plummeted by a third in some key meth-producing states and two-thirds in at least one, Alabama.

Meth production often involves the use volatile organic chemicals (VOC's), acids, metals and other compounds that can produce toxic chemicals during the manufacturing process, resulting in the contamination of lab sites.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, exposure to such chemicals can cause produce a range of symptoms, including respiratory problems, birth defects, and, in some cases, cancers.

"The greatest risk surrounding these labs is the dangerous nature of the persons making and using this illegal drug," according to the department's website. 

However, the department also instructs those who believe they have discovered a clandestine laboratory to stay away from the area - and to notify law enforcement immediately.