Law enforcement trained in meth lab cleanup
PLAIN DEALING, La.— Firefighters and law enforcement personnel from various area agencies have been learning how to safely handle the explosive materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, and last Friday, Sept. 27, they put their learning into practice by dismantling and processing a makeshift lab at the North Louisiana Criminal Justice Academy.
The firemen, police officers and sheriff’s deputies have taken 40 hours of classroom instruction about meth labs, according to Jake Kelton, an instructor with Merit Training Group. “They learn how to identify meth labs. They learn what personal protective equipment they have to wear.
“When they go in there, their exposure is what we worry about. There’s officers in Utah right now who are sick because of their exposure to meth chemicals as they were processing a meth lab. These guys know what to wear to make sure they are safe.”
Inside a small room on the ground floor of a towering structure on the Academy grounds, Kelton had set up a working meth lab with all of the necessary components for making meth. A long wooden table held such items as cold compresses, lithium batteries, lighter fluid and other components needed for a “one-pot” lab.
When those components are combined in a plastic container, such as a two-liter soft drink bottle, “they create a great deal of pressure,” Kelton said. “One of those components is a solvent. When that lithium is in there and you have a over-pressurization, when that container ruptures, those fumes come out and they catch fire. If these guys are processing the lab at that time, they’re going to catch on fire also.” Hence, the necessity of the specialized protective gear.
The men who completed the class “are well-trained, and they can do this job.”
Is meth a big problem here in Northwest Louisiana? “I went to a local store here to buy some of the components to make this lab; they didn’t have any left on the shelves,” Kelton said. “So that tells me that you’ve got something going on here.”
Kelton said meth labs are a problem across the country, not just Louisiana. “It’s just a terrible thing right now.”
Meth labs are a serious business, he said. “These meth labs, they’re responsible for Missouri closing 50 percent of their burn units right now because of people getting hurt in one-pots. The average cost in an ER for a person who gets hurt in a meth lab is $1.7 million. And the taxpayers can’t pay that.”
The students were also taught how to recognize meth labs. Because so many of the components can be found in the average household, how can law enforcement officers or firefighters make the distinction between meth labs and an innocent household?
Kelton said that people who manufacture meth are following a recipe. If the ingredients are found at different locations in a residence, they wouldn’t make that connection, but if all of those components are close at hand, “that’s a dead giveaway for them,” he said.
How important is this training?
“The most important part about their training,” said Kelton, “is keeping you safe. When you walk down to the store, you’re rubbing elbows with people who are purchasing elements to manufacture methamphetamine.
“These people are manufacturing meth driving down the road,” he said. “If that car explodes and catches on fire, you’ve a 4,000-pound missile coming at you. This happens.”
Meth labs are huge, he said.
“Right now, there’s almost 60,000 meth labs in the United States. Some are being reported, but many are not being reported. We do know that meth is THE drug to have right now. Other than marijuana, it’s probably the most numerous right now.”
The other problem with meth labs, Kelton said, “is who’s going to clean them up? The average one-pot costs about $3,200 to the taxpayer. When they come out and they take a one-pot away, a hazmat company is charging thousands of dollars because they have to. They have to handle it like a hazmat site.
“These guys are now trained to take many of those components and destroy them themselves, which saves a community thousands of dollars.”
Participants in the class came from the Bossier, Beauregard, St. Martin and Vernon Parish sheriff’s offices, Bossier City and Benton fire departments and Benton Fire District 4.