The 'insidious' problem of meth-contaminated properties

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Methamphetamine use is on rise in Australia, and large numbers of illegal drug laboratories have been found all over the country, especially in residential areas.

The health consequences of contamination in the home can be serious, and young children are particularly at risk.  

According to a study by The Medical Journal of Australia, the number of Aussies abusing meth has nearly tripled in the past five years. There are about 268,000 regular meth users in Australia, with over half classified as being dependent on the drug.

Bryan Goodall, national sales manager at OCTIEF, an environmental consulting and laboratory services company, called meth contamination in residential properties “insidious” as it often goes undetected. Unlike tobacco and marijuana, there are no tell-tale signs of meth contamination, making it hard for landlords and homebuyers to spot the dangers.
 
“There is a big misconception with meth that it is just a drug like cannabis or cigarette smoke,” Goodall said. Far from evanescing, the contamination remains in the home long after the manufacturers or users have moved out, even if there have been extensive renovations.
 
“Methamphetamine is different. It is chemical-based so it does not go away. It isn’t biodegradable and it doesn’t disappear. Contamination can remain in the house…years and years after it was smoked or manufactured in the house.
 
“You might walk into a house with brand new carpets and brand new paint and a nice, new renovated kitchen. You can’t see what is underneath it. That house is potentially still contaminated...You can paint over the plaster board but the stuff will leak back through the paint. It does not go away.”
 
Depending on the severity of the contamination, methods for removing traces of meth can range from chemical washes and structural replacements to complete knockdowns and rebuilds.
 
“In an average scenario, you may have to remove the plaster boards and pull up the most absorbent materials in the house such as carpet and insulation,” Goodall said. “Heavy contamination can seep right into the timber of the house. Worst-case scenario, you have to knock the house down because you can’t get rid of the contamination, but this is rare.”
 
Common exposure is through skin contact with surfaces that contain meth residue, as well as inhalation of chemicals and organic compounds. Exposure can lead to serious health issues, such as disrupted sleep, anxiety, rashes, and respiratory problems. Children who’ve been exposed to meth residue have experienced serious brain, liver, and kidney damage, as well as ADHD-like behaviour psychosis.
 
If the property you’re thinking of buying was previously occupied by meth users or once contained a meth lab, you should have it decontaminated by professional meth lab cleaning technicians before moving in. 
 
Even if the property has no past connections to meth, you should consider using a DIY drug testing kit or have professional technicians inspect the property before moving in to ensure no traces of contamination.  

 

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