Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 28, 2013

Police, firefighters training to clean up meth

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

WELCH — With the increase in the number of methamphetamine labs discovered in southern West Virginia, law enforcement agencies are seeing the need for more specialized training as well as costs associated with properly disposing of labs.

McDowell County Sheriff Martin West said meth presents a unique problem. Since the process of making meth can be volatile, West said it costs the county much more money to clean up the site of a lab rather than a site where drugs like marijuana or prescription pills have been discovered.

“It costs a lot to address,” West said. “You have to get special people who are trained based out of Charleston, out of state, or other locations in the state. You have to dispose of the materials properly and you have take care of the building properly. It can cost $30,000 to $40,000 to safely condemn these houses and the county sometimes has to pay for that.”

West said he is looking to train more county deputies on dealing with meth before the problem grows.

“There are state training sessions available, and we are looking into sending deputies to that,” West said. “The county commission has been favorable about taking advantage of that. We want to get more people trained so we can address this issue since we anticipate there will be a major problem with this in the foreseeable future.”

In addition to police officers, West said it is also important that firefighters are trained in how to spot the signs of fires caused by meth labs.

“We have some training sessions scheduled and one of our officers will be teaching about meth lab at the War Fire Department later on to help them identify the signs,” West said. “Fire departments need to know how to be safe when they are called to scenes where a meth lab has exploded so they aren’t injured or killed by fumes and chemicals.

Meth labs in residences aren’t the only issue law enforcement agencies have come across. Mobile meth labs have also been uncovered operating out of vehicles in Mercer County, according to Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash.

“We had one lab that was essentially a drive through,” Ash said. “People were driving through in a vehicle and had meth in the vehicle as well as all the things you need to make it. They were making meth on the road in the car. We have one going to our grand jury similar to that. All the material was being gathered up in the vehicle, though there was no evidence they were actually making it in the vehicle.”

Since it is difficult to catch a meth lab in operation, Ash said the state has laws in place allowing charges to be brought if there is enough evidence to suggest an individual has already or is planning to manufacture meth.

“The law in West Virginia calls it ‘operating a clandestine laboratory,’ and we expect to present one (case) to the grand jury in February,” Ash said. “You don’t have to show actual operation of the lab or making of the substance but rather show they had the materials and intent to make the drugs as well as prosecuting those who have made meth.”

Presently, Ash said the members of the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force are the main officers in the area trained to properly clean areas exposed to meth.

“There are only a few police officers that are trained to do the detoxification of a meth lab,” he said. “If you have a meth lab you have to call the Southern Regional Drug Task Force to call the people who are trained to clean it up. We had a meth lab going in two motel rooms in the area a few years ago, and they had strip that motel down to the concrete and metal supports and rebuild the entire motel. One of the formulas for meth involved the use of drain cleaner. If you are going to put drain cleaner into your body, it can be pretty dangerous.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com