Photo from the North Carolina Department of Justice website.

From the North Carolina Department of Justice, shared April 27:

Photo from the North Carolina Department of Justice website.

RALEIGH — Federal funding for toxic chemical clean-ups should continue across North Carolina or local governments could face the job alone, SBI Director Greg McLeod said Wednesday.

In February, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration notified law enforcement in North Carolina and across the country that it would no longer pay for hazardous waste clean-up at methamphetamine sites as it has for more than 10 years. Since February, the State Bureau of Investigation has covered the costs, but within days that funding will be exhausted.

“Our agents find toxins and explosive chemicals at these sites that need to be contained,” McLeod said. “The potential for health risks and environmental damage is great, and Congress should recommit to containing the damage.”

The federal halt comes at a time when meth lab occurrences in North Carolina are increasing, with meth makers turning to single-container “shake-and-bake” methods to make the highly addictive drug. As of today, 140 meth labs had been discovered across the state this year.

In a memorandum to local law enforcement, McLeod said state budget officials had been asked to provide temporary funding to help local communities clean meth sites. The SBI has spent more than $133,000 since the DEA funding expired.

The SBI has requested State Contingency and Emergency Funds through the Governor’s Budget Office to allow cleanups to continue for 30 additional days.

If the request for State Contingency and Emergency Funding for meth lab cleanups isn’t approved, local and state agencies that discover methamphetamine labs will be responsible for the cost as of May 10, the memo stated. The SBI will continue to help agencies with the specialized scene processing and evidence collection, it said.

Chemicals such as organic solvents and corrosive acids and bases pose a significant health risk to anyone who comes in contact with meth labs. The solvents are particularly hazardous because they are extremely volatile and are breathed easily. Repeated exposure can cause permanent health problems including cancer. Chemical bases and strong acids, such as hydrochloric and sulfuric, can also burn the skin. Ammonia in its gaseous state, which is very prevalent at one pot “shake and bake” scenes, can be fatal if it is breathed in to the system in the right concentration.

The SBI is currently working to identify vendors within the state that can provide clean-up at the lowest possible cost and meet all applicable State and Federal Hazardous Waste Disposal Guidelines. The information will be made available to all agencies should emergency funding not be approved.

McLeod urged local communities to contact Congress and request support for the funding of the COPS Methamphetamine Cleanup Program and the restoration of this critical service to law enforcement throughout the State of North Carolina.

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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