Drugs plague Flanders. This is not only evident from the record catches of South American cocaine in the port of Antwerp and the drug-related violence in and around the metropolis. Especially along the land border with the Netherlands, the region is increasingly confronted with drug laboratories and waste.
‘Hundreds of litres of drug waste dumped in the ground’. ‘350 canisters of drug waste found in a ditch on the Belgian-Dutch border. ‘Unknown persons dump 60 barrels of drug waste at a castle in Tongeren’. These are all headlines that have appeared in the media recently, showing that drug waste dumping is actual.
Over the last decade, more than 100 synthetic drug laboratories have been discovered. As Belgium and the Netherlands are the leading producers of MDMA and amphetamines in Europe, both countries are struggling with an invisible waste stream caused by illicit drug production.
For every kilo of MDMA and amphetamines produced, between six and 10 kilograms and 10 to 20 kilograms of chemical waste are generated, according to a 2017 Dutch study. Depending on the type of drugs produced, this waste can include methanol, ethanol, methylamine, ammonia, hydrochloric acid, formic acid, sulphuric acid, acetone and ether.
Since 2019, there has been a notable increase in the number of synthetic drug laboratories discovered, says the Clan Lab Response Unit, a specialised team of members of the Federal Judicial Police, the National Institute of Criminalistics and Criminology (NICC) and the fire brigade.
They carry out on-the-spot searches for dumps, warehouses and drug laboratories. Drug gangs usually leave the waste at the place of production, where it remains until the authorities clean it up.
Together with the Clan Lab Response Unit and Civil Protection, the Flemish Public Waste Management Agency (OVAM) safely handles hazardous waste and remediation. “When dealing with chemical waste that is not in drums but on the ground, it is important to take immediate action to avoid further soil remediation,” Jan Verheyen, spokesman for the OVAM, told Apache.
In response to the increase in discarded drugs, several Flemish provinces have set up hotlines. There is the ‘Anonymous Drug Hotline Limburg’, the ‘Anonymous Drug Hotline Province of Antwerp’ and most recently the ‘Anonymous Drug Hotline Vlaamsbrabant.be’.
“The anonymous drug hotline is a safe way for citizens to report suspicious signs that indicate the presence of a cannabis plantation or a drug laboratory,” Leuven Public Prosecutor Hans Van Espen told Het Nieuwsblad. “In this way, vigilant citizens can, in complete anonymity, contribute to the faster detection of drug crime. This approach will speed up the flow of information from the field to the police.
In the Netherlands, the Taskforce Brabant Zeeland made a video clip about the world behind the production of XTC to raise awareness of the problem.