Meth Lab Cleanups On The Rise


CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) -- State drug agents continue to respond to a record number of methamphetamine labs across the state and authorities say they see no end in sight.

"Last year we had a record number of lab seizures, more than 1,000, and every year, they have gone up," said Ken Carter, director of the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement. "I'm not going to say it's going to level off. We're probably running awfully close to what we did last year. There may not be a big increase, but it's comparable."

Last year, local and state police dismantled 1,009 labs statewide, Carter said.

"And that's only the ones we know about," he said.

Carter said the largest concentration of meth labs that are dismantled are discovered in a pyramid-shaped area from Story County to the Missouri-Iowa state line.

Cedar Rapids Police Lt. Bernie Walther said crews in eastern Iowa are cleaning up twice as many meth labs this year compared to 2002.

The number of labs investigated in the region has jumped from 66 in 1999 to 146 so far this year.

"Meth is a highly addictive drug; it's easy to make," Walther said, head of the agency's narcotics division. "That's why they are up. Addicts don't have to go out and buy meth and can make their own instead."

"It's homegrown," Carter said. "Everything you need to make it you can buy at a discount store. It all has legal uses, but when you put it together, it becomes illegal."

Both men said generally it's cheaper to make meth than to buy it on the street.

Cleaning labs up can be expensive -- up to $5,000 each, said Rick LaMere, DEA resident agent in charge in Cedar Rapids.

The labs also create a lot of waste, he said. His office covers most of Eastern Iowa and three counties in Illinois and receives reports on labs found in the region.

"Every pound of meth creates 5 to 6 pounds of waste product," he said. "They don't care about the safety of the public, and the public gets the double whammy and also has to pay for the cleanup."

At the cleanups, officers often find kerosene, ether and anhydrous ammonia, among other chemicals. That's why police want people to stay away and call for help if they find a meth lab.

"Get somebody who is trained to deal with the disposal of it," said Iowa City police Lt. Jim Steffen, who oversees the Johnson County Narcotics Task Force.

The Johnson County drug task force has also seen an increase in the discovery of meth labs. Between July and late this month, agents have cleaned up about 20 labs, Steffen said.

Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, agents cleaned up 11 meth labs. They cleaned up 15 the year before that.

Advanced Service Corp. has cleaned up area labs since August and has already done about 25, said Tad Cooper, the Marion company's vice president.

Cooper's company has gone as far as Sioux City and Minnesota to clean up labs.

Eight people are on the lab team, and each has to undergo extensive background checks and be interviewed by DEA agents about prior drug use, Cooper said.

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