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Published: Tuesday, 12/11/2007

Dangers of drug houses

PROTECTING the public health is one of the basic charges of government, making it incomprehensible that a bill to mandate the cleanup of former methamphetamine labs in homes, apartments, vehicles, or hotel/motel rooms before people are allowed to take up residence has been stuck in an Ohio House committee for more than eight months.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Dyer (D., Green), would require the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to establish cleanup standards and the Ohio Department of Public Safety to create a public database of properties used as meth labs so that people could check online about potential health risks before buying or renting. Properties that have met the cleanup standards would be dropped from the Web list.

Mr. Dyer said the bill got an initial hearing in the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs Committee months ago and he is willing to compromise on details of the measure, but has heard nothing from committee chairman Steve Reinhard (R., Bucyrus) about the bill's future.

Methamphetamines are a growing scourge in American society. Highly addictive, they also are cheap and easy to produce, so meth labs have proliferated across the United States in recent years. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, meth labs in more than 100 houses, apartments, and hotel rooms have been busted in the Cincinnati area since 2000, while about 350 former sites have been discovered in the seven-county area surrounding the Queen City and extending into Kentucky.

Residue from the manufacture of meth, as well as contamination from the raw materials, chemicals used in production, and the finished product remain long after the lab has been busted. It can permeate everything in the house: the walls, carpets, draperies, clothes, toys, even the duct work. As the newspaper report noted, while no one is sure just how harmful these substances are long term, police officers dress in protective "moon suits" to avoid contact. Families that moved into former meth-lab homes, unaware of their past, have complained of chronic nose bleeds and coughing spasms.

Potentially, there are thousands of these sites across the state, meaning that many thousands of people may be at risk of contamination. Yet Ohio, unlike 16 other states, including Kentucky and Indiana, has no laws setting standards for cleanup or even requiring that potential buyers be informed of the risk. Mr. Reinhard says the bill is stuck where it is until questions about who will fund it and do the testing are answered. But eight months is more than enough time to find the answers, if the committee is looking, and Mr. Dyer says no one has come to him with these concerns.

It is worth noting that Mr. Dyer is a Democrat and that Democrats typically have a hard time moving legislation in the Republican-controlled House, regardless of the bill's merits. We certainly hope Mr. Reinhard would not endanger Ohioans for the sake of political mulishness.

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