Meth labs rehabbed

When law enforcement officers arrest somebody for manufacturing methamphetamine, it may seem that arrest is the end of the story and everything will go back to normal.

However, when it comes to cleaning up a home or apartment where meth has been produced, the arrest is just the beginning of that process.

Because of how toxic and dangerous the chemicals used to produce meth are, law enforcement has to take careful steps to ensure everybody remains safe while not only removing what’s left of the drugs, but decontaminating the residence as well.

The job of removing the drugs themselves goes to law enforcement, according to Special Agent in Charge Todd Jones with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement.

“We remove most of the gross contamination, such as equipment they make meth with and any kind of product used to make meth,” Jones said.

When removing meth-producing materials, Jones said there’s a checklist that needs to be followed to make sure everything is accounted for.

“We have to follow an EPIC (El Paso Intelligence Center) form, which goes to the EPIC in El Paso, Texas,” Jones said. “They plot where all the meth labs in the nation are.”

Sgt. Luke Fleener, of the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, said locally it’s the responsibility of multiple agencies to make sure a house gets cleaned.

“There’s a decontamination process for individuals who are trained to go in and make the residence clean,” Fleener said. “We generally do that along with Hazmat (hazardous materials team) and work together in that process.”

Fleener said the process of cleaning up remnants of a meth lab can be dangerous.

“It can be extremely dangerous if we inhale the wrong chemicals or move something the wrong way,” he said. “That’s why we’re trained to know what to do and what not to do.”

That training includes attending schools to become familiar with Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, as well as having yearly physicals.

Once the remaining drugs are removed or rendered, Fleener said a private company is called in to help make the homes safe to live in again.

One of those companies is the Grimes-based Iowa CTS Cleaners.

John Krusenstjerna, the owner of Iowa CTS Cleaners, said his company does at least one meth decontamination per week.

“Recently we’ve been getting called two to three times a week in regards to a house and to do a consultation on the property,” he said, adding the company is usually contacted by either law enforcement or someone who owns or lives at the property.

The process of cleaning up a meth house can be a long one, according to Krusenstjerna.

“We do a preliminary test to indicate whether there is meth on the property,” he said. “It won’t tell us if meth is in the entire house, but it’ll tell us if it’s present in the areas we’ve tested.”

Once it’s determined there is meth on the property, they meet with the property owner to discuss the decontamination plan, which includes going over potential costs and what will be done.

Krusenstjerna said not including testing, the decontamination process can take between three to four days. Testing itself can take between five to six days.

“Typically from the time we go in to the time we do the post-test, it can be as much as three weeks,” he said.

He added the testing starts at $125, but once everything is done it can be anywhere between $3,000 and $15,000.

“That depends on what we’re doing and the level of contamination,” he said. “The testing lets us know what we’re doing and whether we have to decontaminate the whole house or if it was contained to just one room.”

For example, Krusenstjerna said if someone was using meth in a bedroom on an upper floor, they would decontaminate that bedroom as well as the room below it. They also go through the ventilation system so no toxic materials drift around the house.

“We’ve got a chemical product that we can actually spray on the walls to scrub and decontaminate within the house,” he said. “Depending on the levels of meth and how much it’s contaminated, we may have to remove drywall.”

He added that it is the homeowners’ responsibility to inform future residents that meth had been produced in the home.

Fleener added if someone sees something they believe to be a meth lab, they shouldn’t touch it.

“There could be hazards,” he said. “Moving around the bottles and containers could agitate it. Call us and let us deal with it.”