Tennessee’s Approach to the Problem of Meth Clean Up

All Meth Incidents* for the United States and Tennessee


United States**


Percentage of the U.S.





































* Including labs, “dumpsites,” or “chemical and glassware” seizures.

** Only includes the 50 states and not the territories.

Data pulled from - Drug Enforcement Administration. 2012. Methamphetamine Lab Incidents, 2004-2011. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.

Clandestine methamphetamine (meth) laboratories are an increasing problem in the United States. In an interview, Thomas N. Farmer reported that in 2010, when the United States had 11,804 meth incidents, Tennessee (TN) had 2,082 lab seizures.1 The 2,082 lab seizures led TN to be ranked the number one state for meth lab seizures in the United States, placing them in both a good and bad position. On one hand, TN has an obvious meth problem, but on the other hand, they are doing something right in breaking these labs up.

Meth labs are not only illegal, but they also pose complications to our society, communities, families, and economic well-being of the nation. The RAND Corporation estimates that in 2005 the United States’ economic burden of meth use was about $23.4 billion.2 This estimate takes into account the social costs of drug treatment, health care, intangibles/premature death, productivity, criminal justice resources, child endangerment, and production/environment.3 According to Famer, using this national estimate it is estimated that TN has an economic cost of $6.1 million for meth use per year. Also according to these estimates when focusing on child endangerment, the state of TN has removed 484 drug endangered children in 2010 and placed them in state custody, leaving the state with a cost between $12 and $17 million per year. The cost to the child physically, mentally, and emotionally cannot even be calculated outside of the cost to provide housing, food, healthcare, transportation, legal support, and mental resources. Adding to the complications, COPS Office funding administrated through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was exhausted as of February 22, 2011, leaving state and local law enforcement to accept the burden of clean up.

In his interview,  Farmer said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980 Standards for Generators of Hazardous Waste states that “the act of seizing a clandestine drug laboratory causes any hazardous chemical to be subject to regulation, and therefore, makes law enforcement the ‘generator’ of the chemicals seized at the site.” This standard, coupled with the lack of federal funding, created a state of emergency for most states. The Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force (TMPTF), a task force housed through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, responded by creating the Tennessee Methamphetamine Intelligence System (TMIS) and the Tennessee Authorized Central Storage (ACS) Container Program, reported Farmer. The first response, the creation of TMIS, provides an intelligence database that is now used to report data to the El Paso Intelligence Center, processes quarantines in TN, and provides shared intelligence to all TN law enforcement, he said. Also, he pointed out that first quarter data (01/01/2012 to 04/01/2012) for TN shows a reported 507 meth lab seizures with 386 arrests and 73 children affected.

Photo: Meth Lab of a Jar
Photo: Police Enter Meth Lab

The second action that the TMPTF undertook was the creation of the ACS Container Program. Before federal funds were exhausted, law enforcement would contact a DEA Cleanup Contractor, who would process, remove, and transport hazardous waste from the seized clandestine laboratory for an average cost of $2,500.4 According to Farmer, with the new ACS Container Program, law enforcement is taught how to safely and efficiently clean up a meth lab and specially-equipped response vehicles remove and transport the hazardous waste to a storage container. In a recent article in Governing magazine, Twelve strategically placed containers are now located throughout the state of TN. The DEA Cleanup Contractors pick up the waste monthly from each of the containers, eliminating $2,000 per lab, for a total cleanup cost of $500. The state of TN has saved $3.47 million since the program’s inception in July 2011. And TN is not alone in this approach; several other states (Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Oklahoma) have created similar programs to deal with their meth clean up problem (Cournoyer 2012). The TMPTF not only promotes real information sharing, but they also share the system and solutions with numerous states to help deploy and utilize them free of charge.
TN has focused on their meth clean up problem and is working to make creative and innovative solutions. Farmer states:

The container program is a short term fix for a long term solution. The program allows for cost savings at the federal and state level for meth clean up, as well as to better prepare law enforcement for the future of synthetic drugs. The container program is small enough to be target specific due to its diversity and quick response. At the same time, we are also working with our partners to share resources. Essentially, the meth container program has allowed us to do more with less.

In the end, communication and information sharing between federal, state, and local agencies is vital. If everyone is on the same page by sharing resources and thinking outside the box in new and innovative ways, the response will be more efficient and effective. It is important not to forget how far the envelope has been pushed by the greatly extending the duties of law enforcement, which include dismantling, stabilizing, neutralizing, packaging, and transporting both hazardous and explosive lab waste. Law enforcement must find a way to deal with these issues now, or they will creep up in other ways. There are two main strategies—either dealing with the problems head-on through prevention, treatment, and enforcement, or dealing with the destruction from the back end through our children, health care, and environment. While the problems with meth have not been resolved, the response is getting better.



1 Drug Enforcement Administration. 2012. Methamphetamine Lab Incidents, 2004-2011. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. www.justice.gov/dea/concern/map_lab_seizures.html.

2 Nicosia, Nancy, et al. 2009. The Economic Cost of Methamphetamine Use in the United States, 2005. Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation. www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG829.html.

3 Ibid.

4 Cournoyer, Caroline. 2012. “Meth Lab Cleanup Program Contains Costs for Tennessee.” Governing. April. www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-meth-lab-cleanup-program-contains-costs-for-tennessee.html (hereafter cited in text).

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