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Monday maptime: That fixer-upper may have been a meth lab

That wasn’t a heart-shaped cake found in the oven on Valentine’s Day when a meth labs turned up near Crowders Mountain. This lab in Gaston County, and another on a dead end road in Brevard, were both uncovered on Feb. 14, 2012,  just two of the 558 “incidents [1],” as the U.S. Department of Justice calls them, reported in North Carolina that year.

The DOJ’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register [2] lists addresses in every state where  law enforcement has discovered evidence of meth-making. The data covers the time period 2004 to 2016. According to the database, Burke, Johnston, McDowell, Rutherford and Watauga counties had the highest numbers of meth lab discoveries during those years. While meth labs do show up in cities, they are frequently found in lightly populated rural areas [3], where the labs — and their smell and dump sites — are less likely to attract attention.

We know that meth decimates the body — yeah, we’ve seen the pictures — but it also destroys the environment [4]. Just one pound of meth produces six pounds of toxic waste. The chemicals used to make the drug can be corrosive, flammable and toxic: acetone, toluene, ammonia, lithium metal and more [5]. And unless there is a full environmental clean up of the lab, the residue can linger in carpets, walls, insulation furniture and drapes — even septic systems if the contaminants were poured down the drain.

The database can inform prospective homeowners and renters of whether that mid-century Modern fixer-upper has secrets behind its walls. North Carolina law requires property managers [6] (including motels), homeowners and renters who know a residence has been used for meth-making to comply with state decontamination standards. (The operative word here is “know.)  Decontamination, though, isn’t as simple [7]as opening a few windows, Swiffering the kitchen floor and Bisselling over the carpet. It’s intensive and extensive, depending on how much contamination is detected.

State and local health departments intervene, as does the NC Department of Environmental Quality, if the meth or lab equipment was dumped outside. And there’s paperwork. A lot of paperwork.

The Department of Justice issued a caveat with this database.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but contains addresses of some locations where law enforcement — county sheriffs, state and local police — has found chemicals or other items indicating meth was made there. The DOJ suggests doublechecking the addresses with local law enforcement.