Meth House Nightmare
A common misconception about meth labs is that a meth lab is a place where methamphetamine is manufactured. Colorado Statutes defines a meth lab so liberally that it includes places where meth has been used or manufacturing equipment, wastes or chemicals have been stored. Making things more risky is the fact that a house may receive the meth lab designation on the word of a trash collector, or other untrained person.
When a house is designated a meth house, law enforcement officers may arrive unannounced, evict the residents with no belongings and close the building to all but law enforcement personnel and industrial hygienists (IH). It’s estimated that there are about 2400 meth labs in residential buildings in Colorado.
The owners may have the property tested by an IH and released after proper remediation. Remediation must conform to state law requirements. No shortcuts are allowed. At this time, a Decision Statement is issued. If the IH issuing the statement is properly credentialed, the owner is then protected from future lawsuits. This must be done within 120 days.
If remediation requirements are not met, the governing body will seize the property, rehab it and sell it to pay their expenses. Buyers have up to three years in Colorado to hold sellers responsible. If it is discovered during this time that meth was used or manufactured on the property buyers and subsequent buyers can hold sellers responsible for all damages to health, happiness and contamination of property.
The dangers that go along with meth houses include exposure to cancer causing chemicals that can saturate walls, carpets and other building materials as well as all contents. Lead and mercury are common byproducts. Chemicals, such as solvents, may be disposed of in plumbing or simple poured on the ground. If not removed properly these can cause various health problems.
Meth may be smoked or manufactured in cars. These cars expose drivers and passengers to the same dangers as being in a building where it was used or made.
The most immediate danger is the meth manufacturer. Meth causes extreme paranoia and symptoms similar to OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. Howard Hughes had OCD. In the movie, The Aviator, there were scenes where Hughes locked himself in a dark room out of fear (paranoia). He collected junk and bottles of urine. He lived amongst the growing clutter. This is similar to meth houses that have been raided. Meth users called “Tinkle Tweekers” even save their urine in bottles stored in living areas to reclaim the unmetabolized meth from the urine.
Most people with OCD are pretty harmless except to themselves. The paranoid meth user can be very dangerous according to police reports. They are often reported to have large, sometimes bizarre, weapon collections that may be heavy on knives. Booby traps are reportedly set to protect the person’s meth stash.
Meth users and manufacturers include people from all lifestyles. Doctors, lawyers and dentists are no more immune than factory workers or roofers. Meth labs are found in neighborhoods from affluent to poor.
When you enter a property take a deep breath. A cat urine smell is often associated with meth. Other odors to be aware of are ammonia, vanilla, solvents or metallic smells. These are warning signs. Meth labs may have no unusual smells.
Meth users sometimes become obsessive about objects. They may dismantle things like remote controls, watches or electronic devices. The objects can sometimes be found in a pile dismantled down to the smallest part.
Large amounts of household products are a tip off. Common products are used to manufacture meth that can found in an average home, except in a meth lab large quantities of common items may be in odd places. If you see multiple packages of lye, Heet, Coleman fuel, peroxide, pseudo-ephedrine or coffee filters in odd places, like stored in a bathroom, closet or kitchen, this is an indication that it may be wise to forget any involvement in the property. The occupant may be a warehouse club shopper with no sense of organization, but he/she may not be.
Propane bottles, or fire extinguishers, that have been altered, or have a blue stain on the connector, may indicate that anhydrous ammonia has been stored in the container. Anhydrous ammonia can be explosive in the right circumstances. It reacts with the metal leaving the connector corroded.
Iodine may be used in meth manufacturing. Iodine is a substance that goes from solid to gas state without becoming liquid. It sticks to everything and spreads on contact. Iodine stains walls and everything else. The stain may be red or yellow. It may be very noticeable if a photo, or other wall hanging is moved, revealing the contrast between stained and unstained.
Meth labs may be hidden behind false walls or other building alterations. Alterations that make no sense should be suspect, such as: exhaust fans mounted where they have no logical use; bootlegged power supply; rooms that are unexplainably small.
Inspection Perfection provides a quick, inexpensive test kit to detect minute residue from the use or manufacture of amphetamine or methamphetamine. A collection paper is rubbed over a surface where residue may be left from smoking or handling meth. A reagent is dripped onto the collection paper that turns blue if amphetamine, methamphetamine or ecstasy residue is present.
A positive test may happen in places where meth has been used, as well as manufactured. This test is for the actual residue of the drug only. It doesn’t test for chemicals used in the manufacture or those that are produced in the process. A positive test tells you to proceed with caution.
The following list by: Chemist Lynn Riemer Of The North Metro Drug Task Force
Meth lab signs
• Yellow discoloration on walls, drains, sinks and showers
• Blue discoloration on valves of propane tanks and fire extinguishers
• Fire detectors that are removed or taped off
• Experiencing physical symptoms while inside the house, such as burning in your eyes or throat, itching, a metallic taste in your mouth and breathing problems
• Unusual strong odors that smell like materials from a garage, such as solvent and paint thinner, cat urine or ammonia
• The use of security cameras and surveillance equipment
Signs that property owners should look for with their homes and tenants:
• Tenants who behave oddly and are extremely thin, have open sores, bad teeth or dilated pupils
• Large amounts of trash with items such as lithium batteries, torn-apart matchbooks, water bottles, cold medicine packs and antifreeze containers
• Discolored coffee filters that are not brown
• Plexiglas or other dark-colored cookware
• Glass containers with two layered liquids and chemistry sets
Thanks to Caoimhin Connell, our IH who provided the basic info for this article. He consulted with CO state Senator Brandon about the presently proposed legislation. He was also involved in writing the present meth lab laws. His recently updated website (2/06) provides info on current CO meth lab regulations: http://www.forensic-applications.com/meth/coloregs.html
For more extensive info about identifying meth houses go to: http://www.forensic-applications.com/meth/recognition.html
This page has a lot of good photos as well.
FOR YOUR OWN PEACE OF MIND TEST BEFORE MAKING A COMMITMENT TO BUY, SELL, RENT OR LIST.
This 10 second test for amphetamine and methamphetamine residue that is used by the US military. We have arranged to buy these tests in bulk and make them available to real estate professionals.
Meth residue can cause many health problems that are similar to those caused by other indoor air pollutants. You can hire an Industrial Hygienist to do testing to determine what is present that may be harmful to your health, in what quantities and how to remediate it..
You can also 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.
Cleanup standards for groundwater may be found in Water Quality Control Commission’s Regulation No. 41 “The Basic Standards for Ground Water.” A list of State groundwater standards for select compounds associated with meth labs is provided in Table 3. For those contaminants for which State standards have not been established, the facility may chose to:
• Use EPA’s Clean Water Act maximum contaminant levels (MCL) or maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG),
• Calculate a health-based drinking water standard using an MCL-equivalent methodology, or
• Calculate a health-based standard using the Water Quality Control Commission’s policy 96-2 “Human Health-Based Water Quality Criteria and Standards”.
Surface Water Cleanup Levels
In the event that activities have resulted in the contamination of surface water, the remediation goal should be the most stringent of one of the following cleanup levels:
• The appropriate surface water standard, as established by the Department’s Water Quality Control Division, for that surface water body. This applies only to those surface water bodies, primarily rivers and interconnected ponds and lakes, for which water quality standards have been established.
• A health-based concentration that is protective of human health using a drinking water
exposure scenario (unrestricted use designation).
• A concentration that is protective of aquatic life or other wildlife found in the area.
CONTACTS FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
To report a known or suspected meth lab, contact your local law enforcement agency or drug task force.
For general questions regarding meth lab cleanup, call the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division’s Customer Technical Assistance line at 303-692-3320 or toll-free at 1-888-569-1831 ext 3320. This number should also be called if you suspect that there may be potential environmental contamination from a meth lab (i.e., disposal to surface waters or dumped on the ground).
Suspected disposal down the sanitary sewer should be reported to the local wastewater treatment authority. The public works department or other city offices can assist in determining how to contact the local wastewater treatment authority.
For questions regarding health effects of meth lab-related chemicals or by-products, please contact the Department’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at 303-692-2700.
For More Information: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment
Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, Colorado 80246-1530
Customer Technical Assistance (303) 692-3320
(888) 569-1831 ext. 3320 toll-free
Division Website http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/
Copyright Carl Brahe – Inspection Perfection Inc. www.inspection-perfection.com 2004 all rights reserved.
Meth Labs Case Study
The Hankins family had been saving for five years when they saw a starter home for sale for only $35,000 in the southern Oregon's Cascade mountains. But as it turned out, their dream house appeared to be making them sick.