Meter Readers Trained to Notice Meth Production

Meter Readers Trained to Notice Meth Production

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- City and county officials in Utah's population center have begun training the people who read water meters to look for signs that meth labs are operating.

"This is good for us because it not only helps us protect our employees, but also helps protect the community," said Jim Lewis, finance administrator for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities.

Cooking meth, which can be made with chemicals such as industrial fertilizer, brake fluid and drain cleaner, produces toxic byproducts that can injure or kill anyone stumbling upon them.

Meth training for meter readers began with the Salt Lake City Council, which wanted readers to recognize dangers and nuisances. Those include blackened windows, chemical odors coming from the house, chemical containers in the garbage and paranoid behavior.

Councilwoman Nancy Saxton, who pushed for the initiative, said she wants city employees watching for meth and things like snow on sidewalks and garbage in streets.

"I feel that it's our responsibility as a city to keep an eye on those things if they're blatant quality of life issues," Saxton said.

In March, two representatives from the Salt Lake City Police Department gave the readers the same half-day presentation on meth they give to other community groups. Readers learned to watch for empty bottles of gasoline treatment, an ingredient, and exhaust pipes with bags of Kitty Litter on the end. The litter helps disguise the meth smell, and the bag collects the toxic gasses the cooking produces.

Lewis said most of Salt Lake's water meters are in front yards or parking strips, but there is still a percentage located in back yards and a handful inside homes. He said readers have never reported a meth site.

Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Ryan Atack, who works in the department's narcotics unit, was glad the readers received training, but doubted they would produce any tips.

Few meth manufacturers cook indoors anymore, he said, and if they do, it's only for about three days and then they move to another site. But Gilgen said he still appreciates the training.

"There's always the possibility. You just never know," he said.

Lewis said meter readers also receive training on such things as safety around dogs and reporting emergencies.

Utah Power and Questar Gas said they train their meter readers to report various emergencies, but have not given specific training on meth.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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