Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cleaning up Illegal Pharming on Rural Properties

Today's Indianapolis Star ran a story about the continuing problem of methamphetamine ("meth") manufacturing in rural America: "Cleaning up the mess left by meth labs a profitable niche."  The Star's article focused not on the problem of meth use, but on the chemical residue left behind when meth labs are discovered in rural homes.
Inside a Crawfordsville rental property, the tenants liked to cook.
But what they were cooking got them busted last month, Indiana State Police say. In the kitchen, police found everything it took to make meth.. . .
Methamphetamine labs are more than just dangerous and illegal. They leave a mess -- an environmental hazard that, according to state law, must be cleaned up.
When meth is "cooked," such amateur chemistry often results in explosions and fires, leaving behind a toxic mess of chemicals:
At the Crawfordsville home . . . [a]ccording to the police report, there was a lithium/ammonia reaction, flammable solvents, water reactive metal (lithium), hydrochloric acid gas generator and corrosive acid.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management ("IDEM") and county health departments require that the chemical constituents left behind be remediated before occupants are allowed back into the building. According to the Star, "it takes a special process, certification and inspectors who scour the property in full-gear Hazmat suits and respirators to do the dirty work."  This can be expensive, $10,000 or more.

Tonya Bond, an attorney at our law firm, has helped a number of landowners confronting five-figure meth cleanups on their rural rental properties.  She instructs clients to file their cleanup claims with their insurers.  Often, insurers will deny these claims because they involve "criminal activity" or "pollution,"  but that is not the end of the matter:

Tonya Bond
Though there is no Indiana coverage law interpreting meth cleanups under insurance policies, other jurisdictions have found that the damages from meth manufacturing are caused by “smoke” and “vandalism”—both covered perils under standard property policies. Indiana courts also would likely find that meth manufacturing is “criminal mischief,” another commonly covered peril.
Coverage for drug manufacturing, however, does not stop with first-party property coverage. Where cleanups are required by the government, these are standard environmental liability claims, and coverage is also available under the liability coverage in most policies.
There a number of legal lessons here.  First, if you own rental property, know your tenants.  Second, make sure your rental property is insured for the casualties like those described in the Star article.  Third, if you are dealing with an expensive state-mandated cleanup, engaging a knowledgeable attorney can make a big difference.

1 comment:

  1. It's such disgrace that they used that toxic material to clean the building. They should have just gotten a waste management services' company to clean the area for sure safety procedures.

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