There are different protocols law enforcement raiding trespass marijuana grow operations must follow to dispose of chemicals — sometimes illegal, sometimes household — on private and public lands, and the procedures can be so time consuming the chemicals can get rifled through by curious wildlife, vandalized or stolen in the meantime.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lt. DeWayne Little said there is a “cradle to the grave” policy on fertilizers, pesticides, petroleum and other chemicals commonly found on grow sites, meaning that if an agency deals with these chemicals, they must ensure the proper disposal. The rules are reminiscent of the playground policy of “you touched it last, so you have to throw it away.”
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Humboldt County Drug Task Force Lt. Bryan Quenell said the time it takes for the proper agency or company to get to the site after it’s been raided depends. If they serve a search warrant on private land and only find legal or household chemicals, they can leave them for the property owner to deal with. If they serve a warrant on a public land trespass grow, they work with Fish and Wildlife on the reclamation of the site.
“A lot of those things come with us,” Quenell said.
But if law enforcement finds illegal or banned chemicals on either public or private land grows, those materials are hazardous waste and must be dealt with as such.
“When we come across those, it’s kind of hands off for us,” Quenell said.
Same goes for Little and his department.
“We’re not authorized to transport that or move it from the site,” he said of hazardous materials.
And in a rural county like Humboldt where grow sites are deep in the wilderness, the time it takes to get individuals trained in dealing with and disposing of hazardous waste can depend, he said.
Some examples of these illegal substances found on grow sites are carbofuran, a pesticide banned in the United States, and rodenticides brought up from Mexico.
Sometimes in the time it takes to get the proper team to the site to dispose of the waste, the chemicals disappear.
“That’s a potentiality we have to deal with,” Little said.
If the raided grow site is one site in a larger drug trafficking network, these dangerous chemicals can end up on other grow sites in the network. But there’s no solid evidence of this because the materials aren’t marked by agents during the initial raid due to the “cradle to the grave” rule, Little said.
“That’s why most people are leery about touching it,” he said.
This isn’t the only issue about the turn-around time — animals that come into contact with the banned substances can sometimes be found dead in the immediate area.
“If we put it in an overpack container and suspend it in a tree so an animal can’t get to it, we inherit it,” Little said.
So people from his department can only do this for the nonhazardous materials.
There’s also the issue of vandalism. Sometimes people use these materials as a shooting target, which only helps to spread the chemicals around the area or leech it into the watershed. Acts such as this are detrimental with the other issues of blue green algae blooms in streams and rivers made nutrient rich by fertilizer runoff and the Humboldt marten, a weasel like species on the brink of extinction.
“It’s a real tough area,” Little said. “I know the general public wants more black and white answers.”
Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.