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Kentucky State Law Complicating Efforts To Clean Up Meth Labs

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Elnore Robinson wants to clean up her Louisville rental property where police arrested her tenants for making methamphetamine, but a new state law is standing in her way.

The law, which took effect weeks after the bust, requires property owners to hire state-certified contractors to clean up properties where toxic and potentially explosive chemicals were cooked to make the drug. Since the law took effect July 1, no contractor has signed up to be certified - in large part, officials say, because a $500,000 surety bond or "other financial assurance" must be posted.

"Everything has to be cleaned by a certified individual before it will pass the health inspection," Robinson said. "We wanted to do it right, we intended to do it right, but nobody now is certified. I called Frankfort and they said if we did (the cleanup) correctly it still wouldn't pass."

The cleanup of former meth labs - nearly 350 were busted statewide in 2006 - depends on the level of contamination. It ranges from requiring the disposal of furniture, carpet, drapes and drywall, to washing things down with bleach and water.

The cost generally ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, but sometimes goes higher.

Contractors also are required by the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet to carry liability insurance for at least $250,000 to cover themselves in case a cleanup is not done properly.

But "the hurdle is the half-million dollars" for the surety bond, cabinet spokesman Mark York said. "That is what contractors have told us."

While the statute cannot be changed until the General Assembly meets next year, York said the cabinet had come up with a temporary solution - using cabinet funds to underwrite $450,000 of the bond amount and requiring contractors to come up with a $50,000 bond. In the long term, he said, "Obviously what we would like to do is work with the bill sponsor and see about working on possible changes to the legislation."

The sponsor, Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, said she would be open to changing the law.

"If the reality is no one will sign up under those circumstances, then we need to make a change," she said. "What we really want is to get these things cleaned up."

Environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald dismissed concerns about the surety bond, saying he blames the cabinet for not aggressively searching for contractors to certify.

"I think it is regrettable the agency has not made an active effort to go out there and recruit the contractors to get this program up and running the way it was intended," said FitzGerald, the director of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental group.

He also said he does not believe the proposed solution satisfies the intent of the law.

"You are essentially eliminating the whole intent of the surety bond requirement," he said. "You are shifting the risk and the exposure for nonperformance from the individual who had committed to do the job to the state."

Before Kentucky's law took effect, the cleanup was left to county health departments and property owners. There were no standards or requirements that a home be properly cleaned before being occupied again.

York said he could offer no immediate solution to Robinson's dilemma, beyond lobbying environmental companies to sign up for the certification.

"I would encourage (property owners) to contact companies that are in the cleanup business to encourage them to go through the certification process," he said.

Robinson said she has done that to no avail.

FitzGerald said he finds York's suggestion to Robinson "offensive."

"Frankly, that's their job," FitzGerald said of the state.

York said the state has approached contractors in surrounding states, and has "people available to answer questions - there's been inquiries - and we've posted information on the new law on the Web."

Several contractors who are certified to handle asbestos removal in Kentucky said they are interested in signing up to do the meth lab properties but were unaware of the new law.

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Information from: The Courier-Journal,
http://www.courier-journal.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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