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Published: Wednesday, 5/30/2001

The mess of meth

The production of methamphetamine is creating a dreadful threat, not only to those who use the drug but to the environment, which is at risk from the waste materials left behind by its production.

Methamphetamine was described by former drug czar Barry McCaffrey as the “worst drug that has ever hit America.”

Lives have been destroyed by heroin and cocaine. But authorities warn of the double threat of methamphetamine, commonly known as meth, crank, and crystal.

Addiction is only part of the issue. In laboratories where meth is manufactured, as much as 10 pounds of waste is generated for every pound of drug. One of the byproducts is phosphine, which is particularly toxic. A few molecules can be deadly.

About 100,000 pounds of meth are illegally produced every year in this country, leaving about 1 million pounds of waste. The DEA calls California's Central Valley area a “source nation” for meth because so much of it is produced there. Only Southeast Asia is the area's competition. It's growing so fast that two years ago, 261 meth labs were confiscated, compared with 73 labs seized in 1992.

Meth producers set up shop in isolated farmhouses, and their waste finds its way into the soil and groundwater. Taxpayers get the bill - $10 million annually - from firms the state hires to clean up materials left behind.

Meth production is creating a nightmare, both to people and the environment. John Walters, President Bush's newly named drug czar, has his work cut out.

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