Federal funds for meth cleanup in jeopardy

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – If a meth lab were discovered tomorrow in Northeast Mississippi, the cleanup could cost as much as $25,000.
That’s normally not a problem because federal funds help local agencies. However, last month the federal program that pays for meth lab cleanup through the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services program lost its funding.
Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said more than $10 million was appropriated during the 2010 budget for the program. Fisher said it costs anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000 to clean up a meth lab, depending on its size.
In 2010, Mississippi law enforcement shut down more than 700 meth labs.
“If the funding doesn’t get reinstated then it can get very expensive for the state and the counties,” Fisher said. “It takes a lot to clean up these meth labs to make the environment safe and the federal funds helped to offset the costs for the state.”
Barbara Carreno, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the cleanup program is still operating on the $10 million budget from last year’s allocation because of a continuing resolution.
That resolution allows business to operate as usual until a new budget is passed.
Congress failed to approve a new budget last fall for this year. Carreno said the new budget could be passed as soon, but Congress may not continue the program as it looks for ways to cut spending.
“Right now we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “We could get the same money or we could get none at all.”
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said meth is a problem that Congress wants to help fight.
“I believe federal support for state and local methamphetamine control initiatives has been useful, and I have been supportive of providing federal resources for them,” Cochran said.
“However, Congress is now faced with the need to rein in discretionary spending and all programs will be put on the table. I will work with my colleagues to ensure that methamphetamine control programs are given fair consideration.”
At least for a while, when federal funds run out the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality will pay for the cleanup of labs that MBN takes down.
Fisher said it is unknown how long DEQ will have the money to do that. For local agencies like the Northeast Mississippi Narcotics Unit, that means including MBN in meth busts if they don’t want to pay the cleanup costs.
“We will have to include the state agency in meth busts where we know a lab is involved,” said Capt. Marvis Bostick, the unit’s commander. “Hopefully the state and DEQ has enough money to fund the cleanups, at least until the federal government resolves its budget situation.”
Both Fisher and Bostick said they don’t expect the lack of federal funding for the project to be permanent. But if it is, that could mean future financial woes for the region’s counties.
“Sooner or later this state money will run out just like the federal money did,” said Lee County Sheriff Johnson. That means the counties will have to absorb the cost, he said, “and I have no idea where that money will come from.”
Meth cleanups are expensive because of the chemical hazards. Johnson said proper cleanup involves hazardous material training and equipment that the counties just don’t have.
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@journalinc.com.