Officers decry meth study

By By Jake Hibbard, Staff Writer

By Jake Hibbard, Staff Writer

Some former methamphetamine-lab busting police who filed for workers compensation for ailments related to their exposure to the dangerous drug while on the job are blaming their denied claims on a failed U study.

Twenty-eight workers compensation claims have been filed by former police officers blaming meth lab exposure for conditions they suffer, and all but six have been dismissed, said Karla Rush, with the Utah Labor Commissions. Many of the denied claims were because the officers could not prove that their ailments were because of exposure to meth, Rush said.

To research possible links between meth lab exposure and cancer or other diseases, the U’s Rocky Mountain Center for Occupation and Environmental Health was given $250,000 from the Utah Legislature in 2006 to conduct a study on the link among the police officers, said Kurt Hegmann, a U professor who was in charge of the study.

If the study could find evidence that a link existed, officers would be able to use the results as evidence to the validity of their claim, he said. The ultimate total cost of the study was about $540,000, Hegmann said.

A group also conducted a separate study on exposure among firefighters.

More than 10,000 police officers were contacted about participating in a questionnaire, which was about 50 questions long. It asked about the officers’ previous exposure to meth contaminants and what type of safety equipment they used, Hegmann said. However, only 533 officers responded in time to participate, and results of the study ended up being inconclusive, he said.

“Part of the problem (with the study) was a lack of participation by police,” said Rod Larson, director of industrial hygiene at the U center, who worked on the study. “You can’t make up data.”

Other than a lack of participation, Hegmann said it was hard to find conclusive evidence that meth lab exposure was specifically linked to cancer, because it is already such a common disease.

Hegmann said his study group made efforts to inform every officer about the study, but he said he suspected that many officers might have never heard about it.

“Everybody we could get our hands on, we contacted them,” he said. However, the only way the group was able to contact many officers was by having police agencies send out letters about the questionnaire.

“We did the best with what tools we were given,” he said.

Hegmann said the mailing lists at many of the municipalities were not up-to-date.
“A sizeable chunk of letters came back with wrong addresses,” he said.

Hegmann said he would still be interested in doing a study about the effects of busting meth labs while wearing insufficient protection and its potential link to cancer, but he said the study would have to be drastically different than this one.

Without better participation or better methods, it would just be more wasted time and money, he said.

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