Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Meth lab site in Jefferson County. © Courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Justice

Meth lab site in Jefferson County.
© Courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Justice

August 2014

See something suspicious? Stop.

Law enforcement partners warn about mobile meth labs in the outdoors.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Imagine camping at Peninsula State Park in Door County, hiking the Baraboo Bluffs near Devil's Lake State Park or hunting white–tailed deer in Vernon County. During one of these outings, you accidentally stumble upon an area containing what appear to be household cleaning supplies…plastic jugs, tubing, opened packages of cold tablets, peeled lithium batteries and maybe a small, 20–pound liquid propane cylinder with a bright blue valve.

Unfortunately, this imaginary scenario could become a reality. The scene described above is of a makeshift methamphetamine "lab" or dump site. It is a potentially dangerous place.

Chemicals used in the meth manufacturing process include acids, bases, organic solvents, anhydrous ammonia and other caustic, toxic, explosive or carcinogenic substances found in many household cleaners. Sadly, sometimes Wisconsin sportsmen and women, and outdoor enthusiasts discover these "labs" before law enforcement authorities.

If you discover a scene like this, don't approach it and don't touch anything. Call 9–1–1. Even a seemingly innocuous discarded plastic bottle may be filled with harmful chemicals from a "cook."

The result of such a "cook" is methamphetamine (or "meth"), that can be snorted, smoked, injected or ingested. Due to varying methods of manufacturing, meth can be "cooked" almost anywhere — a basement, shed, vehicle, ice fishing shack, public restroom or public lands. The process is highly mobile and can be done in stages at different locations.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) — Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), through its clandestine laboratory certified special agents, is aggressive in combating the proliferation of meth throughout the state. Working closely with local law enforcement, the fire service, emergency medical, public health, and highway and utility workers, DCI's special agents support a multi–jurisdictional, multi–disciplinary approach to investigations, enforcement actions, training and outreach on the seriousness of meth labs.

When it comes to activities on public lands, DCI has a key partner with the Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement. Special agents and conservation wardens conduct investigations, identify suspects and make arrests. The partnership also is responsible for coordinating local, county and state responses to these incidents.

Like clandestine (secretive) outdoor marijuana grows, meth labs pose a unique set of challenges. Beyond the obvious safety issues associated with exposure to toxic chemicals, there are other environmental impacts, such as soil and groundwater contamination. The Department of Natural Resources provides insight and resources to assist local governments with strategies to mitigate the effects of hazardous waste associated with a clandestine lab dump site.

DCI special agents receive specialized technical training to respond to, investigate and dismantle a suspected clandestine laboratory. This training is provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA Basic Clandestine Laboratory Certification School is the most widely recognized law enforcement–sponsored clandestine laboratory training course that meets Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

DCI special agents learn how to use air purifying respirators, a self–contained breathing apparatus and other personal protective equipment when conducting activities near or in a suspected lab.

Clandestine meth labs pose a threat to individuals but also to our natural resources and the greater community. If you come across one of these labs, report what you see to local law enforcement immediately. Do not touch any of the materials and do not approach the site for inspection. If there are individuals near the site, do not attempt to approach them. Once reported to law enforcement, clandestine laboratory certified law enforcement will respond.

With your help and the partnership between DCI and the Department of Natural Resources, we can preserve the safety and beauty of Wisconsin lands for generations to come.

J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsin's Attorney General.