New law to help county clean up meth lab sites
Even after a methamphetamine lab is shut down, the dangers of contaminants inside the structure remain unless cleaned and inspected by qualified professionals.
While this is no secret, the Putnam County Health Department has in the past had no avenue of recourse to notify the public of a contaminated property or to force the owners to clean it up.
Between 2007 and 2013, the health department was notified of 25 contaminated properties. Of these, just one has been cleaned up, according to Lisa Zeiner, environmental health specialist with the health department.
Future meth labs should be a different story thanks to an ordinance passed by the Putnam County Commissioners this week.
The clandestine drug lab ordinance gives the health department the power to declare such structures as unfit for occupation, publicly post notice of contamination and to force owners to decontaminate the properties.
Under the new law, structures found by the health department to have been the location for use or production of methamphetamine shall be declared a public health and environmental hazard.
Once declared, a sign will be placed at the entrance to the contaminated site to provide notice to the public. Additionally, the health department will have notice of contamination recorded and attached to the deed of the property.
Secondly, once the site is declared hazardous, all occupants of the property must vacate it within 15 days.
The site is to remain vacant until an inspection is performed showing the contaminant level is below the requirements set for by the State of Indiana for such contaminations.
Ownership can also not be transferred until a property is decontaminated.
Once the owner of the property is notified by the health department of the contamination, he or she shall be required to decontaminate the property within a timetable provided by the county.
All inspections and decontamination must be performed by contractors certified by the state. A list of qualified inspectors is available at www.in.gov/idem/health/pages/drug_lab/qualified_inspectors.htm#list.
The ordinance also allows for civil penalties against any owner who fails to comply. The fines are $1,000 for the first violation, $1,500 for a second violation within 12 months and $2,000 for all subsequent violations within 12 months.
While the ordinance sets forth rules for dealing with any new methamphetamine labs, it does not apply to the 24 contaminated properties since 2007.
It will give officials the power to notify residents of all such properties that they are living in a structure that previously housed a methamphetamine lab.
Such letters will list everything from the associated Indiana State Police occurrence report and encourage the occupants to have the buildings inspected.
To view the sites of clandestine labs in Putnam County and the rest of the state, visit www.in.gov/meth/2371.htm.
No meth labs in structures have been located in Putnam County since 2013, with mobile labs having become the norm.