Imagine this, your darling daughter is so sick she needs to be rushed to the emergency room. After a few tests they determine that she is suffering from acute amphetamine overdose, and not you nor your wife, nor anyone you know, is any kind of illicit drug user!
A crazy scenario? It is almost exactly what happened recently to a Missouri couple.
The couple, Tyler and Elisha Hessel, were settling into their new house in Missouri and anticipating their first child, due in January 2020. Then, they received some worrying news from their doctors. As explained on their GoFundMe page, a routine pregnancy examination revealed that Elisha had tested positive for amphetamines. Considering neither couple had ever touched the drug, this left a huge amount of confusion and concern. A lengthy process of elimination later revealed their home was riddled with unsafe levels of methamphetamine contamination. Only after dozens of phone calls and meetings with lawyers did the couple find out their newly purchased house was a former meth lab!
While this might sound like an unfortunate but uncommon story from the extended Breaking Bad universe, it’s a situation that arises more often than you might think.
The DEA seizes thousands of homes that were once used as meth labs. Plus, only 27 states require this information to be disclosed, and laws vary widely between each location. Your “dream house,” could have a nightmare past that could hurt your family’s health.
The worst part is, once purchased, the home is yours to clean. Local services and home inspectors often offer testing and cleaning, but the process can be expensive and cost thousands of dollars.
How Long Does Meth Linger in a Home?
The problem is that traces of meth and the dangerously toxic chemicals that are used to “cook it” can last in a home for a very long time. A study by Flinders University in Australia, recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that traces of the drug can lurk in a former meth lab for over five years.
“The most significant mass of methamphetamine was reported to be within the blinds,” said study author Dr. Kirstin Ros. “These are plastic blinds that were present when manufacture was suspected to have been undertaken. 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.”
Just what kind of a health hazard can this be? Another study looked at a family of five, including three children aged 7 to 11 years, who lived in a home in rural Australia that was previously a clandestine meth lab. All family members reported some mild effects on their health, such as sore eyes, rashes, dizziness, blurred vision, and persistent coughs. Many family members even noted symptoms like excess energy, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.
The highest concentrations of meth were found in the hair of their youngest child, a 7-year-old boy. Most concerning of all, he appeared to display health issues that were not present before living in the home, including asthma-like symptoms, fearfulness, nightmares, irritability, and aloofness. The symptoms were so severe, doctors said he was displaying signs of ADHD.
How to Tell If Your Home Was a Meth Lab
Here are some things to watch out for, as compiled by Safewise Home Security.
Be Suspicious of Strong Odors
It’s normal for old homes to smell musty, but meth labs leave a signature scent. So put your nose to the ground and sniff for any suspicious smells like ammonia, rotten eggs, or vinegar. These smells are a red flag for any property, so be sure to ask the hard questions before buying.
Note Unsanitary Conditions
Meth labs aren’t exactly known for their cleanliness. If you walk into a house that looks messy and run-down, it’s a good indicator that something might be amiss. Deep stains on the carpet and walls can also be a strong signal of drug use in the home. That’s not to say that every messy house is a former meth house, but be skeptical if you encounter a home that’s excessively dirty.
Review Registered Meth Houses
Spend some time researching the property online. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maintains a National Clandestine Laboratory Register that’s available to the public. This database stores properties reported as meth houses in all 50 states. It might not have every meth house in the US listed, but it’s a great place to start your research. Even if the address you’re interested in is clean, the database gives you a better idea of where the meth labs in your area are.
Ask Your Neighbors
If you’re new to the area, your neighbors can be a well of helpful information. If they’ve lived in the neighborhood for a while, they’ll likely have important details about the previous owners and any suspicious activities that could have taken place there.
Go to the Police Station
Who knows the negatives of a neighborhood better than the police? Local officers have a lot of information that can help steer you in the right direction. They’ll know everything from the number of arrests to the kinds of disturbances and criminal activities that have taken place. If the house has drug-related incidences, make sure meth wasn’t involved. You can also check out online sources to help you find out how safe your neighborhood is.
Be Wary of Suspiciously Low Prices
Everyone loves a discount, but if the price feels too good to be true, it might be. Not every foreclosure or short sale is shady, but a low price on an amazing property could be due to long-term damage caused by meth. Before finalizing the sale on a foreclosure, do some research and check its history so you know it’s a good deal.
A Final Word of Advice
Houses that were former meth labs, aren’t always run-down and easily recognizable. A newly refinished house might not have any visible signs of prior meth production, but you never know what could be under the surface. If you suspect the property has been used to cook meth, ask your realtor or inspector for a test.