Committee considers legislation to regulate clandestine drug labs

By Karen Cornelius

The Legislative Committee of Vermilion City Council met on Monday night, April 10, and reviewed sample legislation from Vermilion Township on clandestine drug labs due to the concern of future illegal and dangerous meth labs coming into the area.

Legislative chairman Frank Loucka stated that the sample legislation came from Vermilion Township administrator Robert Kurtz, the city’s former service director. The purpose and intent of this legislation is to reduce public exposure to health risks where trained law enforcement officers have determined that hazardous chemicals from a suspected clandestine drug lab site or associated dump site may exist. Such sites may contain suspected chemicals and residue that place people, particularly children or adults of child-bearing age, at risk when exposed through inhabiting the site, now or in the future.

Chairman Loucka said the cost burden to clean up and test such sites is with the property owner, and the testing requirements are based on EPA recommendations for clearance levels for residual contamination. Police chief Chris Hartung commented that any lab has to be completely sealed off due to the volatile chemicals which can absorb into all the materials and even contaminate the site for the next tenant who moves in if it’s not cleaned up. Service director Tony Valerius stated that you just can’t paint over drywall, the drywall has to be removed as well as any carpeting, etc. He said it’s really down to the bare stubs and starting over to get rid of it all.

Councilwoman Barb Brady wondered why they need a city ordinance if there is existing law and there is a health department. Council president Steve Herron said it is important for the city to have its own restrictions so the police can get search warrants and be more aggressive to close these labs. He said he understood there were children in the suspected meth lab found on Aldrich. Service director Valerius said an ordinance would help to tell any property owner who might not be aware of a lab that he or she has to clean it up by ripping out the interior. “We need an ordinance to do that.”

Councilman Jim Forthofer asked chief Hartung how he has to prepare for these drug labs coming into the area. Forthofer heard from a nurse in Los Angeles that meth was sweeping the city last year, not heroin. Chief Hartung responded that these labs are dangerous because of the chemicals, the need for HazMat, and the effects they have on a person. He said while heroin depresses and slows the breathing down, methamphetamines are the opposite. “It’s like the wild, wild west where people run buck naked through glass windows,” said the chief.

The chief said they have discovered three such labs in Vermilion. Now the police will need more aggressive enforcement and undercover work. They will also have to adopt self-defense techniques on how to handle users. He said they will rely on the Lorain County Drug Task Force and the DEA who have deeper pockets. The chief sees this all coming in cycles, an ebb and flow, along with more societal problems such as heroin deaths and now resources. With heroin, there’s a concern about imports from Mexico and China. With meth, there’s no distribution chain. “It’s a science kit in a bathroom,” said chief Hartung.

Councilman Brian Holmes urged the public to say something if they see something, even if they smell something, to call the police. The Legislative Committee then passed a motion to prepare legislation and also refer it to the law director and building department. The topic will go on the May agenda of Legislative as well.


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