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Insurance Insights: Meth Awareness

Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive stimulant that can be injected, snorted, smoked or ingested orally. It is also used as an appetite suppressant. The drug is easy and cheap to produce, and the ingredients create toxic by-products. The Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that more than 10 million Americans over the age of 12 have used meth at least once in their lifetime.

In an effort to battle meth production, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 was enacted to limit the purchase of products containing pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed. The bill prohibits large-volume purchases and restricts access to the products used to manufacture meth. Most states have passed similar laws, making it difficult for criminals to obtain the ingredients for production. Despite this, large numbers of users still make the drug, using storage facilities as an unwary accomplice.

If you operate or work at a storage site, you should know the signs of potential drug activity, how to proceed with legal action, and how to handle related hazardous waste.

Be Meth-Wise

When law-enforcement officers find a meth lab, they also look for storage receipts. This is because each pound of meth produced leaves behind five or six pounds of toxic waste that lab operators often hide in storage along with their stock of ingredients. Though the labs themselves are sometimes found in units, this is generally not the case due to a lack of electricity to cook the product.

The types of trash you might find on site to indicate meth production include plastic containers, glass jars, funnels, plastic storage boxes, bubble packs (from Sudafed), matchbooks missing their striker plates, and plastic or rubber tubing. Most items would be stained red. Coffee filters filled with a white or red pasty or powdery substance, coolers or thermos bottles, and propane tanks can also be meth waste.

Sudafed is not the only common ingredient used to produce meth. Iodine, red phosphorous, alcohol, acetone, red devil lye, Drano, Coleman fuel and antifreeze are also used. All are easily obtained and can be stored for long periods of time. These substances are hazardous, toxic, corrosive and combustible. In addition, they produce toxic vapors that can affect surrounding storage units, resulting in the possible need for evacuation and remediation.

Bear in mind, an odor will not always be present. Until the ingredients are combined or one spills, there may not be any tell-tale smell. And unless you have smelled meth production before, you might not recognize it. The best way to describe it is as an extreme chemical odor that irritates the mucous membranes.

Education and Prevention

Every facility should have clear policies and procedures for maintaining awareness of customer activity and what to do in the event of finding hazardous materials. These procedures should be followed to the letter.

Always be vigilant when it comes to the possible criminal activities of customers. Watch for clandestine or unusual behavior, unknown visitors, or tenants who make frequent (and often after-hours) visits to the site. All customers should produce positive ID, and you should verify every tenants address.

If you do find possible indications of meth, never confront the tenant yourself. Paranoia and aggressive reactions to threats, real or perceived, are often symptoms of meth use and could put you at risk. Instead, call the police and the fire department. If a building has suffered fire from a hazardous explosion, immediately contact your insurance company too.

Although the authorities are responsible for apprehending perpetrators of meth production, your storage facility would probably be responsible for any cleanup and associated costs. To protect your business from liability, you must have language in your lease that specifically prohibits the storage of hazardous materials. In addition, consider obtaining pollution-liability coverage for self-storage. This should include hazardous-chemical removal, cleanup, third-party liability, legal fees and fines. Without this coverage, a facility can be exposed to great financial risk.

Many local law-enforcement agencies offer presentations to educate the public regarding meth production, including what to look for and how to react. This information is an inexpensive way to increase employee awareness of drug-related hazards and reduce a facilitys exposure to this threat. 

Randy Tipton is owner of Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd., which has provided specialized insurance coverage to the self-storage industry for more than 12 years. Universal has clients in 49 states, with a commitment to providing A-plus-rated service; fast, fair claims handling at an affordable premium; and agents trained specifically in self-storage. For more information, call 800.844.2101; e-mail [email protected];

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