While moving into a house without knowing it was a former meth lab may not be at the top of your list of concerns, homes contaminated by methamphetamines — either by previous owners cooking or smoking it — is actually an “increasing public health problem,” according to a new study.
What’s more, the contamination can stick around for years.
Researchers at Flinders University in Australia noted that when a house is evaluated for meth contamination, samples are generally taken by wiping surfaces, such as walls. But it’s hard to know how deeply contaminated a house really is — and how much of a health threat it poses for the people who live there — without going beyond the surface.
For the study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers looked at a house that had been contaminated by people cooking meth before the home was eventually sold to someone else and then left uninhabited for several years. They found that the meth residue was still around more than five years later.
The study authors noted that the contamination levels in the house were “extremely high in both household items that were part of the house when cooking was taking place (blinds, carpets, walls, etc.) and also in articles brought to the house post-cooking (rugs, toys, beds, etc.).”
The most contaminated item in the house? The blinds. “These are plastic blinds that were present when [drug] manufacture was suspected to have been undertaken,” said the study authors. “This is consistent with observations from other properties where higher levels of methamphetamine are present in materials such as PVC, polyurethane and stained and varnished timbers."
The researchers noted that “the methamphetamine is not breaking down or being removed and is transferred from contaminated to non-contaminated objects.”
Glenn Morrison, PhD, a professor in the department of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina, told Yahoo Lifestyle that it’s not unusual for drug residue to last for years. “Based on our lab work, it certainly could take years for meth to slowly release from building materials,” he said. “The extent to which it will still be a problem depends on how much meth was released into the house during laboratory operation.”
Elisha and Tyler Hessel know firsthand what it’s like to live in a house that’s been contaminated with meth. The Missouri couple had unknowingly moved into a house that had been a meth lab six years prior. To make matters worse, Elisha, who is pregnant, found out during a routine prenatal blood test that both she and her unborn child tested positive for amphetamines after living in the contaminated house. (The couple moved out of their home and are awaiting the arrival of their baby girl due in January.)
The Australian study raises questions as far as how well houses where inhabitants cooked or smoked meth are cleaned before new tenants move in.
“Without fully understanding the extent of contamination that is present, not only on surfaces but within the building materials, it is difficult to ensure that the correct and most effective remedial approaches are taken to appropriately determine and address the risks to inhabitants,” said the study authors.
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