Comments Off on Humboldt: Recent meth lab discovery highlights impact of state budget cuts on cleanup crews

Law enforcement officials were unable to cleanse a Eureka home this week that apparently had a small methamphetamine lab, highlighting a problem Humboldt County has been dealing with since last year.

Due to state budget woes, the Department of Justice has basically eliminated its Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement teams because too many agent positions have been slashed from its budget. The bureau was formed to target major drug dealers, eradicate clandestine drug manufacturers and enforce prescription drug laws.

As a result of the budget crunch, the Department of Justice no longer has a team near the North Coast to shut down and clean up clandestine drug-making operations. On Wednesday, the Eureka Police Department found itself in need of one of those teams and unable to effectively process evidence.

Eureka police conducted a probation search at a home on the 2600 block of G Street in Eureka on Wednesday night, and stumbled upon several items they suspect were used to manufacture methamphetamine, according to a press release. Investigators discovered a two-liter plastic bottle with a hose attached to the top, and identified it as a hydrogen chloride gas generator used in the meth-making process. A bottle of hydrochloric acid and denatured alcohol, key meth-making ingredients, were also found, officials said.

Inside the home’s basement, officers found coffee filters, empty pseudoephedrine medicine pill packets, cut open lithium battery strips, empty bottles of drain cleaner, a funnel and measuring cups with white crystalline residue, the release said.

Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham said it wasn’t a major drug making operation, but the house had to be sealed off and his officers evacuated.

”We called in a private company from Chico to come in and do the cleanup,” Harpham said.

The Chico team disposed of the hazardous materials Thursday morning, after the city of Eureka’s building department and the county’s environmental health division deemed the home unsafe to occupy until further notice, the release said.

Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey said it’s frustrating to use these expensive disposal companies instead of a Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement team.

”They’re not trained investigators,” Downey said.

He said the county used to have two people trained to deal with Hazmat materials, but that the Department of Justice isn’t renewing the training for law enforcement agencies due to budget cuts.

Without a trained team of local Hazmat people, evidence can’t be properly processed, Downey said. He added that it’s too dangerous for officers or deputies to stay in a meth lab without the proper equipment and training.

”They will explode. They use highly-flammable ingredients,” Downey said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Knight agreed.

”When they start cooking in houses, the houses can become uninhabitable,” Knight said.

Since the cleanup crews don’t know how to process evidence, this creates a problem in building a case against an offender, Downey said.

”Prosecuting cases like that is darn near impossible,” he said.

Without a local Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement team funded by the Department of Justice, the costs of abating methamphetamine manufacturing structures falls to local law enforcement agencies. Though a small pool of money for such cleanups might be available, Downey said it’s unclear at this point how local cities and the county will be able to financially support these kinds of efforts in the future.

”This is a real problem,” Downey said.




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