Why Test Your Home, Office or Car for Meth
“My sister in-law moved in with us. We knew she was smoking meth but now we think she’s been making it too.” This woman’s call is typical of the calls I receive. She wanted to know if they should do a home meth residue test. I told her that she already knew there was meth contamination from smoking even if her sister-in-law was a very conscientious meth cook.
According to experts in the field it is theoretically possible to leave enough residue from one smoking session to contaminate the walls in a small room above the level allowed in CO (.5 micrograms/100cm 3). If someone cooks meth in your home you may, or may not, have some form of pollution from a variety of chemicals. If someone smokes meth in your home, or car, you have meth contamination at levels that may affect your health. It may also affect the value of your home and/or your ability to sell it.
I told the caller that she already knew she had a meth contamination problem. Doing a home residue test might confirm that, but what she needed to know now is what kind of pollution she was faced with, in what quantities and where. She also needed to know how to proceed. I told her that she needed an industrial hygienist to test and develop a plan with her for remediation. Industrial hygienists are scientist who test for environmental pollution.
This caller told me that she and her children were not ill. This is not usually the case. These calls commonly come from mothers or people with compromised immune function. The stories are similar: “I’m sick, my kids are always sick. They can’t sleep. They don’t eat and they are very irritable and my dog died.” In one case, the mother was alerted to meth contamination when her pre-teen children’s hair tested positive for meth. There’s no way to know if these people are actually affected by meth pollution in their homes, but it seems likely that chronic exposure to even small quantities of meth in your living environment will make you sick. You can test yourself, or your children for meth that has been ingested from contact with contaminated surfaces.Saliva tests are accurate, easy to use, private and take only 5 minutes.
A common question is: “If they know there was meth in the house/apartment that I’m buying/renting they have to tell me, right?”
Meth contamination, or any other known major defect, must be disclosed in all home sales although it may be hard to prove if a seller knew that meth was used or made on a property. In CO if you discover that there is meth contamination in your home you have three years to hold the sellers responsible for all damages to health and property and coincidental expense regardless of if the seller was aware of the contamination.
As a renter you are not so clearly protected. Some states have passed laws requiring disclosure to renters as well as buyers. Renters have rights that vary between locations. All states except AK require that housing be maintained in livable condition. Section 8 and other federally sponsored rental programs have higher standards and provide greater protection. In most places a complaint may be filed with local health or building departments if a place is felt to be uninhabitable, or contributing to a disability.
A disability, for this purpose, may defined as a condition that limits a major daily activity. The ability to breathe in your own home qualifies. A note from a nurse, or doctor, may be all that’s required to document the disability and the accommodations needed. Landlords may be required to make reasonable alterations. The process of forcing a landlord to make improvements, even those that affect basic health, can be long and difficult. If your health is at risk don’t expect action, expect to move as quickly as you can.
Some callers ask if they can be exposed to meth from neighbors in their buildings. Occupants of multi-unit housing may suspect neighbors above, below or next door of making or smoking meth. They worry about exposure to themselves and their children. Exposure under these conditions is particularly likely if the individual living units have a common heating/cooling system.
Smoke or fumes from a unit can also contaminate adjoining units through walls or floors. The natural airflow through a building is from the lowest point to highest moving with rising heat. Airflow through walls and ceilings/floors is common. Meth smoked in an adjoining apartment may be sucked through outlets, switches, lighting fixtures and gaps in drywall or trim. Occupants of the adjoining apartments can experience low-level meth intoxication and may become ill.
It may be possible to seal entry routes from adjacent living units. Switches, outlets and fixtures can be sealed by removing and injecting foam into the wall, ceiling or floor. Trim can be sealed with caulk. Some multiple living unit buildings have common attics and it’s possible to go from one unit to others unobstructed. Smoked can move from unit to unit. Attic hatches can be sealed and even fitted with a lock.
These precautions can be taken but if the contamination is already there it is too late. Meth contamination was found remaining in motel rooms several years after meth was manufactured there.
Home test kits can help identify meth residue. A reputable test on the market supplies special collection papers that are rubbed on suspect areas. A chemical is dropped on the paper. A color change indicates a positive test.
A caller asked where to take samples. I told him that unless he is an environmental testing scientist the best approach is to sample as many places as he could conceive might have been touched by meth smoke or by a person after handling it. For most purposes it is not necessary to know where meth residue is in a home, it is only necessary to know that it is there. The where and how much will be determined in the remediation process. Each collection papers can be used on multiple surfaces. A separate paper is not necessary for each testing site. For living units with suspect smoke or manufacturing in adjacent units test around outlets, switches, fixtures and trim on connecting walls/floors/ceilings.
He asked, “If I do all this is it still possible to not get a positive test even if there is meth?”
I answered, “Absolutely. Unless you are a scientist who does environmental testing there is always the possibility that you will get negative results when there is meth present.” A shotgun method testing every place possible that makes sense increases the likelihood of detecting the presence of residue. The more logical places you sample the more likely you are to sample the correct places. If there is still any suspicion that meth may have been used or made an industrial hygienist should be consulted.
Most DIY meth residue test kits do not measure to the lowest level allowed by various states. Kits that are sensitive enough to test to the lowest detectable level allowed in many states are only available to professionals.
When shopping for a car, or a place to live, be aware of the possibility of meth contamination from smoking or cooking. If you suspect meth contamination avoid the property or vehicle. The possible effects on your health and potential problems associated with selling the property should weigh heavily in your decision process where meth is suspected. Home test kits can be used to help quickly eliminate a property being considered , but should not be relied on in place of comprehensive testing by a qualified professional. A positive test tells you there is meth present. A negative tests tells you to proceed with caution and have professional testing done if you still have any reason to believe meth might be present.
Remediating a vehicle, or building, that has been contaminated by meth can require stripping everything to bare studs, or steel in the case of a vehicle. It can be expensive, time-consuming and hazardous to health. Avoid these properties if you can. If you find yourself living in a place where there is meth contamination get help immediately from an industrial hygienist or other appropriate professional.
Representing victims of meth contamination is a fast growing legal specialty. There are likely lawyers in your area who will help you get compensation if you live in a meth contaminated home that you are innocent of contaminating. Home owners insurance is paying for meth related damages more than in the past. If you live in a multi-housing unit, your landlord’s insurance may also cover damages. It may be a challenge to get fair compensation when you innocently find yourself living in a meth house, but there are more options available as the problem becomes more common.