After the bust, meth labs cause lingering headaches

Property owners face stiff cleanup requirements
Jan. 05, 2014 @ 08:12 AM

When Sharon Schmidt reads news about a methamphetamine lab being found, she makes a mental note. It's not just personal curiosity.

As a real estate broker, Schmidt wants to be sure she's never in the position of trying to help someone buy or sell that house.

"As a Realtor, I wouldn't touch one," she said. "I wouldn't even list a house if it was a known meth house. Can we be sure there is no health hazard?"

The reason meth labs create a concern is that the production of meth results in chemical byproducts so toxic that exposure to even small amounts can damage humans’ nervous systems and impair liver and blood production. Small children suffer most. Exposure to meth chemicals also can trigger birth defects, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"We are in business to help the buyer make an informed purchase," Schmidt said. "We don't want to sell something to someone that's not safe for a family to live in."

Real estate agents or anyone else can keep track of properties used as meth labs, but they have to know where to look.

Since January 2012, a total of 12 meth-making operations have been found in houses in Caldwell County, two have been found in apartments, and one was in a camper, according to the N.C. Department of Justice. All but two of those were found in 2012.

Statewide, a total of 460 labs were found in 2012, including 59 in Wilkes County alone.

The State Bureau of Investigation keeps a county-by-county tally of meth labs, but it does not include the addresses, said Noelle Talley, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Justice.

There is an online national registry maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice that identifies meth lab properties, but it relies on local law enforcement agencies sending the information. The site includes a disclaimer encouraging people to check any address in the registry with a local law enforcement agency.

The Caldwell County Health Department keeps information on file about properties that had meth labs. That documentation is kept on file by the health department for up to three years, and anyone who asks can get the addresses -- except for those properties that have met legal requirements for being cleaned.

When a meth lab has been removed from a house, the SBI notifies the health department, which then sends a letter to the property owner notifying him that the county won't allow people to live at the property unless it is cleaned up, along with a list of companies that can perform the cleanup. The property owner must return a plan of action to the health department, which signs off if it's adequate, and the cleanup begins.

Among other things, during a cleanup plumbing fixtures must be flushed. Ceilings, walls and floors are scrubbed. Wood materials, such as cabinets, are removed or sealed after cleanup. The property is aired out for at least three days to allow remaining volatile chemicals to disperse. Heating and air conditioning systems, sewage disposal systems, plumbing, carpets, appliances, and all surfaces, including floors, walls, ceilings, cabinets or tile, must be free from traces of meth chemicals.

"Often, the property owner feels the expense isn't worth it," said Denise Michaud, the health department director. "We had an owner a few years back who just torched his lot after a mobile lab was found. Another owner had a trailer that had a meth lab removed from his property."

 

METH LAB PROPERTIES

A federal database shows where local methamphetamine labs have been found. Visit http://www.justice.gov/dea/clan-lab/clan-lab.shtml