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Extract from www.9news.com.au published online 11 October 2017
It can be almost impossible to tell if your house was once a meth lab with the invisible toxins left behind potentially posing a serious health risk.
Shows like Breaking Bad may suggest otherwise, but a cleaned-out methamphetamine lab can easily be transformed into what appears to be an ordinary house, according to Josh Marsden of clean-up specialists Meth Lab Cleaners.
“We’ve been in houses and you can’t tell sometimes, especially if the owners or tenants have cleaned up the place,” he told nine.com.au.
“You’ve got mansions, massive houses worth millions, and meth labs in the boots of cars.”
“Sometimes it’s only one bedroom units, sometimes it’s a three-bedroom house.”
The clean-up process starts after a police bust, with authorities instructing owners to have their buildings decontaminated. For every kilogram of crystal meth produced, up to ten times as much chemical waste is left behind. And that chemical waste settles on walls, ceilings, furniture and floors.
“Normally if it’s a meth lab, all cosmetic things like carpets, underlay, furnishings, it’s a full clean-out,” Mr Cook said.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen houses, units, garages, we had one in a storage facility, farmhouses, you name it.”
There are normally signs a home has been a meth lab, Mr Cook said.
“If there’s any sharps around, miscellaneous products like empty chemical bottles, burn marks, if the place is untidy,” he said.
But those signs aren’t always there, which is why suspicious house-hunters often get properties tested for meth lab toxins.
If they find toxins, the house-hunters normally decide against a purchase.
“If it’s been a previous meth lab and it’s been cleaned up, they don’t have to tell anyone,” Mr Marsden said.
The extent of the remediation depends on the size of the “cook-ups”, but often cleaning the walls doesn’t do enough.
“Strip-outs happen often because landlords will try and renovate the property after it’s been trashed, and they’ll want to paint it,” Mr Marsden said.
“We can’t clean those surfaces because they’ve covered the methamphetamine residue.”
If the surfaces have been painted over the risk is still there, but the means of cleaning them has gone.
In those cases, cleaners will have to strip out the walls, and if worse comes to worse the building will be demolished.
Living in a contaminated former meth lab can be as dangerous as using ice itself.
“People living in a former meth lab are likely to have the same risk as someone who is using methamphetamine,” National Drug Research Institute associate professor Nicole Lee said.
“Plus, they potentially have the additional risk of exposure to the other chemicals that are used in the manufacture.”
Respiratory problems, skin irritation, headaches and nausea are common in those living in contaminated homes, with the risk especially dangerous to children.
And the long-term risks include liver and kidney damage, neurological problems and even cancer.
It’s why the specialist cleaners don chemical suits and full-face respirators rather than expose themselves to the risks of absorbing the toxins.
Bunbury in Western Australia is seen as the hotspot for crystal meth use and manufacture, with Perth also showing higher than usual rates of addiction.
But meth labs are dotted across the country, in backyard sheds, apartment blocks, rural farmhouses and affluent suburbs.
A study released in March this year showed Australians use crystal meth at much higher levels than countries in Europe conducting similar tests.