Vermont authorities expect methamphetamine to keep them busy this year.
"We could see an increase to 20, maybe 30 labs," said Chris Herrick, Vermont's hazmat chief.
That's more than the last nine years combined. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, no more than four labs a year have been reported in Vermont between 2004 and 2012.
Herrick says meth is on the rise because it's cheap, easy to make and its ingredients can be found at any pharmacy or hardware store.
"Before this becomes a major problem, let's develop the protocols so that we have them in place," Herrick said.
Herrick is working with the health department, environmental conservation and lawmakers to pass legislation that would answer questions like: do landlords and realtors need to disclose meth houses, who's responsible for cleanup and what standards do they need to meet?
"Right now, we don't offer any sort of guidance to people on how they can cleanup properties that have been used as meth labs and we would like to change that," Vt. State Toxicologist Sarah Vose said.
The Vermont Health Department says residue from cooking meth can seep into pillows, drapes, counters and carpets, posing health hazards long after the active chemicals are removed. Babies-- from 6 to 24 months-- are the most vulnerable, crawling around surfaces most adults don't touch. This becomes especially dangerous when parents don't even know they're living in a former meth lab.
"The person who makes the mess is responsible to pick it up. Well, it's going to be pretty hard to get somebody who's in jail for 33 months to pay for the cleanup," Herrick said.
Hazmat and police sweep affected homes for the dangerous chemicals and remove immediate hazards. But they're not responsible for a thorough, professional deep cleaning. Authorities say they can offer advice but residents re-enter at their own risk.
"We can't tell them that it's safe reoccupy. We can't tell them it's unsafe. We do recommend that they hire a cleanup contractor and there are some in Vermont certified by the DEA," Herrick said.
Whether the legislation passes or not, Herrick and his colleagues will continue their mission to keep Vermonters safe with upcoming projects like devising protocols for decontaminating hotels and investigating the residual dangers of smoking, rather than cooking, meth inside a home.
Hazmat says the majority of Vermont's meth labs are outdoor or mobile operations.
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