By Steven Ross Johnson
Wescom News Service
Every member of Oregon's congressional delegation sponsored legislation that easily won House approval this week and would provide more government support to clean up toxic waste left behind from meth labs.
The unanimous support shows how much the delegation is focused on directing attention to the environmental concerns associated with the drug.
According to Oregon's Department of Human Services, a pound of meth can yield 5 to 6 pounds of toxic waste.
"This is another step forward in our effort to clean up our communities literally and figuratively from the terrible problems caused by methamphetamine production and use," Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said.
An estimated 86,000 people in Oregon are affected by methamphetamine use, while the drug affects around 1.4 million nationwide, according to a 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Meth has been attributed by local law enforcement agencies as the cause of a rising number crimes in Del Norte County. Addicts often steal to pay for their habit or commit violent acts when high.
As part of the proposed Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act, $5 million would be spent over the next two years to research the long-term health effects that police and emergency personnel face because of exposure to the hazardous materials found in meth production.
The results would be used to develop new safety guidelines that state and local authorities could use to lower their risks of health problems when responding to meth-related crime scenes.
About $3.5 million would go to the Environmental Protection Agency to set up the study, while $1.5 million would be allocated to the National Institute of Standards of Technology for the development of new meth detection technologies and field tests.
The chemicals used in making meth usually include solvents such as Freon or benzene, metals and salts such as aluminum or magnesium, and corrosive acids such as ammonia or acetic acid.
Inhalation or skin contact with these substances often results in shortness of breath, coughing, chest pains or skin burns, according to a report from the Oregon Health Department. "It is unbelievable what this toxin does to the brains of its cooks and users," Walden said. "You realize that there needs to be some real health guidelines here developed based on science as to what are our first responders are walking into."
A similar bill was passed by the House in February 2005 and by the Senate in December 2006, but the session ended before the bill had a chance to be signed by President Bush.
The 2007 federal report from the Health and Human Services Department stated that the number of meth labs in Oregon has been on the decline in the last few years.
But Walden said that in counties such as Deschutes, designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the problem came from a large drug cartel trafficking in a purer, more addictive form of the drug rather than small, independent meth producers.