The Associated Press reports that when motel owners find evidence that one of their rooms has been used to cook up meth, they're discouraged from reporting contamination because of the expense of cleaning them properly. Instead of losing the room to quarantine and clean-up, they re-rent them and simply mask the odor of the toxic chemicals. Because motel owners can't afford it, guests pay the price through their health.
It's not like a motel owner can do much to stop the practice. Drug processors are secretive and wily, which is why they use the cover of a motel room to begin with. Meth labs can be transported in something as small as a backpack and set up in four hours.
A skilled processor can check in at 10 p.m. and be gone by 8 a.m., but the traces of their toxic chemicals can linger for days or weeks, making subsequent guests sick. The odor of strong cleaners or cigarette smoke can mask the toxins, which can cause eye and skin irritation, vomiting, and headaches.
Cleanup crews fetch between $2,000 and $20,000 to don hazmat suits and swab the area, and motel owners are the ones who have to pony up the price. For that reason, often nothing is done. The AP interviewed the owner of the Cascade Motel in Chattanooga, Tenn. where room 38 was used as a mobile lab one night. "Our bad luck," sighed the owner.
A clean-up expert from Utah said that 70% of the rooms that test positive for meth lab usage are in properties that have never been busted before. What's more, it's not just cheap hotels that fall victim. Drug cookers use expensive ones, too, probably because it reduces suspicions further.
The number of meth labs being discovered each year has plummeted since 2004, when it got harder to purchase some of the primary ingredients, but they're still out there. The D.E.A. told the Associated Press that 1,789 meth labs, or traces of them, were found in American hotels in the past five years. That's out of 3 million rooms rented nightly.
Thing is, that's only the labs they found.
I'm not trying to scare you. I still maintain that budget hotel rooms are by and large just as clean as the more expensive ones. But if you were worried about what's on the bedspread, that's the least of it. Once cleanup expert suggests never using the coffee pot, since they can be used to cook up the drugs. Aside from wearing a hazmat suit to bed, though, this is a problem that will keep recurring until motel owners have an incentive to report contaminated rooms.
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