Buyer Beware: Former Meth Labs Poisoning Homeowners, Children

Biological and science background

Around the country, police departments and public health officials are scrambling to deal with the aftereffects of methamphetamine production. Not only do impromptu meth labs act as magnets for criminal activity, but they often explode or leak dangerous chemical fumes. However, experts say the danger doesn’t end just because manufacturers move on or police shut down an illicit lab. In most cases, meth production leaves dangerous chemical residue behind in the buildings where it’s made.

In Ionia County, Michigan, the Ionia County Health Department reports that of 42 condemned buildings in the area, 21 were closed because of dangerous contamination. Health Department Officer Ken Bowen says there are strict legal criteria a former meth lab location must meet before it can be re-occupied.

“Meth is made with a combination of what is basically poisonous chemicals,” Bowen said. “The residue found in homes is dangerous, especially for children.”

Carpets are especially prone to contamination, and pose a particular risk to young children who crawl and spend time on the floor. Even under normal conditions, the average residential carpet absorbs an entire pound of dirt and dust, and more than 20,000 mites can live in a single ounce of carpet dust. In meth labs, commercial carpet cleaning professionals say, carpet fibers can act as sponges, sucking up dangerous levels of highly toxic chemicals.

Jose Mazzuca was the operations manager for Meth Lab Cleanup Company, which contracts with the Drug Enforcement Agency and helps clean sites all over the country. He says too often meth labs are never even reported to the police, because homeowners are afraid their property value will plummet, while landlords don’t want to lose out on revenue. Plus, a decontamination can cost upwards of $10,000.

A new method for producing meth, known as the “Shake and Bake” method, allows cooks to produce the addictive drug in a single soda bottle. Ingredients like battery acid, cleaning products, and gasoline are mixed together, and often the chemical cocktail explodes.

“The rule of thumb is law enforcement finds one in 10 meth labs,” Mazzuca said.

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