BOISE – A two-year-old Idaho law meant to inform people about the locations of toxic methamphetamine laboratories has so far fallen short, because some law enforcement agencies were unaware until recently that such homes must be reported to the state.
What’s more, some residents are moving back into homes where meth labs were busted before the structures have been cleaned and tested to make sure they are safe under state health standards.
In some cases, those living in the homes say they have nowhere else to go.
Authorities say there’s little they can do about people who reoccupy the homes. The Clandestine Drug Lab Cleanup Act leaves it up to property owners – not police or health officials – to keep houses on Idaho’s meth-lab property list vacant until they’ve been judged by a certified industrial hygienist to be free of dangerous substances.
They just tear down the yellow sign posted by police identifying the home as an illegal drug lab, then move back in.
“From that standpoint, it’s a paper tiger,” said Jim Faust, manager for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s indoor environment program. “Keeping the property vacant is not working.”
The law, in effect since April 2006, was championed by Idaho legislators in their war on the highly addictive stimulant that’s linked to the convictions of half of Idaho’s 7,300 prison inmates.
It was meant to give potential renters or home buyers a Web site that listed where homes with meth labs were located. It also requires owners of the properties to remove toxic meth ingredients – such as hydrochloric acid, phosphorus and iodine – before the homes can be declared fit for habitation by Health and Welfare.
Since Idaho’s law took effect in April 2006, however, just 13 homes have made the list of known meth labs.
Yet in the last 18 months, there have been nearly as many meth lab busts in North Idaho’s Bonner County alone.
Faust said he’s uncertain just how many law enforcement agencies across Idaho have failed to report residences where meth labs were found. He learned of the problem recently; last week, the Department of Health and Welfare sent reminder letters to authorities in Idaho’s 44 counties.
“There probably will be quite a few more that will be coming in,” Faust said.
Bonner County Detective Ror Lakewold said he’s been in charge of methamphetamine investigations in his region since 2001 – but didn’t learn of the clean-up law’s reporting requirements until he got the Health and Welfare letter last week.
He estimates his officers have raided up to 12 residences that should be on the state’s list.
“We’re going back, since that date, and reporting every lab that’s occurred,” Lakewold said.
Keeping people out of a former home meth lab until it’s been cleaned up has been difficult, in part because the Clandestine Drug Lab Cleanup Act puts the onus on property owners to make sure homes remain unoccupied.
In Columbia Village on Boise’s eastern border, a home raided in April 2006 was almost immediately reoccupied by its 35-year-old owner. The woman, who told the AP Friday that her boyfriend is now in an Idaho prison on a drug conviction, asked not to be named in a story out of fear the state could evict her if it learns she’s living in the home.
She said she wants to clean up the house, but lacks the money.
“If I lived somewhere else, I’d have to pay rent plus mortgage,” she said.