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Kentucky project helps farmers find meth labs
By TIM THORNBERRY
Kentucky Correspondent

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Farmers have enough to worry about these days with changing agricultural trends and increased operating costs. The last thing they need is the worry of illegal drug production on unused portions of their property.

Yet, this is becoming a bigger problem, mostly because some fertilizers and commonly found farm chemicals can be used in the making of drugs such as methamphetamine. A University of Kentucky (UK) program known as Walk Your Land (WYL) is helping farmers discover these drug operations - and more importantly - get rid of them.

WYL is one of many projects created by the Health Education through Extension Leadership (HEEL) program at UK and was designed to give landowners knowledge of drug operations, in particular meth labs. HEEL programs are developed to be delivered through county extension offices, which work with their local partners.

WYL generally brings landowners together with law enforcement officials through extension offices to prevent and eradicate illegal drug activities on private property.

Holly Hopper is a UK project coordinator who develops drug education efforts, including WYL.

“Education is the key to this program,” she said. “There have been many cases where farmers were moving meth labs and had no idea what they were. That turned a big problem into a bigger one.”

Hopper said the improper disposal of the labs can cause severe soil and water damage, enough to ruin crops and kill livestock. Often, the remains of a lab look like a campsite or liter - and all too often - the sites are removed improperly.

One pound of cooked meth can leave as much as seven pounds of toxic waste, which can remain in the soil for years.

“It is important that if a landowner finds something on their land they think is a meth lab or other illegal drug, they call local law enforcement immediately,” said Hopper. “In many cases illegal drug sites are booby-trapped which makes many people unwilling to even look for them.”

Hopper said ignoring the sites can only add to the long list of problems associated with the drug including the sometimes detrimental cost the landowner could face to clean the premises.

“The property owner is ultimately responsible for cleanup,” she said. “The owner may also be legally responsible if persons get sick after they re-enter a contaminated building. Law enforcement will remove waste but cannot decontaminate a site. Health authorities should be contacted and deem the property habitable before renting, selling or moving into a former production site.”

Hopper emphasized just how costly a cleanup can be.

“In at least one (case) that I know of, the cost to cleanup such a site led to bankruptcy for a property owner,” she said. “If a farmer or property owner reports illegal activity and identifies those involved, they may be considered victims of a crime and not be held liable for cleanup costs.”

William H. Fortune, a UK law professor wrote, “landowners are not criminally liable unless they know of the criminal activity and do not report it. If a landowner knows of the criminal activity and does nothing to stop it, the land is subject to forfeiture and the landowner could be charged with criminal facilitation.”

Fortune wrote that a landlord can check a prospective tenant’s background, and in some cases, could include a provision in the lease that would allow him to enter and inspect the property although this is not allowed in some areas of the state.

While finding these illegal operations is a key step to getting control of an out-of-control situation, it is the effects of the drug that has many law enforcement officers concerned as well. Anderson County Sheriff Troy Yong said the problem is one of the most frightening things he’s seen in nearly 20 years on the job.

“It’s the worse thing we’ve ever seen drug-wise because the addiction is so bad,” he said. “Once someone gets started on meth, it’s almost impossible for them to stop. It affects them both mentally and physically. Just one use could create problems for the individual for years to come. An addict looks as though they age overnight.”

Young also said that one of the reasons the problem has become so widespread is that it’s cheap and easy to make.

Ordinary chemicals used
Many everyday medicines and chemicals can be used in the making of meth. As a result, the Kentucky General Assembly recently passed legislation taking many over-the-counter cold products off the shelf; only sold to those signing for them as a way to deter illegal use and production of the highly addictive drug.

Some chemicals commonly found in meth labs include acetone, used as a fingernail polish remover, methanol, used as brake cleaner fluid, anhydrous ammonia, used as farm fertilizer, hydriodic acid used as a driveway cleaner, muriatic acid, used as swimming pool cleaner, pseudoephedrine/ephedrine, found in cold medicine and sodium hydroxide used in drain cleaners.

Methamphetamine waste may include battery casings that have been stripped, soft drink bottles, plastic jugs and gas cans with tubing attached to the lids, containers with liquid that appears to have layers, thermal containers with kitty litter in them, cold medicine blister packs or bottles of cold medicine, match boxes, iodine crystal containers, large bags of salt, strange smelling solvents and discarded propane tanks.

“Everything needed to cook meth can be put in a backpack and produced even between rows of corn,” said Hopper. It’s important to pay attention and report anything suspicious and lock up your chemicals.”

For more information, call a county extension office or visit the Walk Your Land website at www.ca.uky.edu/heel/land

This farm news was published in the June 21, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

6/21/2006