Meth-contaminated homes are a growing hazard

The housing rebound is putting more of these residences on the market, which is making test kits a growth industry.

By Bruce Kennedy Mar 21, 2013 8:09AM

Illegal meth lab (© byllwill/Vetta/Getty Images)Health experts say it's a good idea to have your home checked for asbestos, lead, mold or radon gas. But now a growing number of consumers are having their residences or business spaces inspected for another very toxic hazard -- methamphetamine contamination.

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, police seized more than 17,000 meth labs in the U.S. in 2003. The number of seizures has gone down more recently, but methamphetamine use continues to rise. Officials estimate tens of thousands of homes and other properties have been contaminated by the chemicals used to make the highly addictive drug.

The spilled or vaporized ingredients can be easily absorbed into a variety of home interior carpets, ducts, wall boards, tiles and fabrics -- and even trace amounts can linger there for years. And the chemicals associated with meth -- either in its production or usage -- can cause injuries to the brain, lungs, liver and kidneys, and they can damage a person's nervous and reproductive systems.

There's an economic impact, too. The Denver Post reports more methamphetamine-contaminated properties are being discovered as the housing market recovers. While contamination is especially prevalent among foreclosed homes and low- to mid-range rental units, it has been found in all sorts of neighborhoods and in high-price homes as well.

With more homes getting sold these days, the market for home test kits for meth has grown dramatically. "We probably do hundreds (of these tests) per week," said Paul Pope, project manager at ALS Environmental Laboratories in Salt Lake City, Utah -- one of only a handful of U.S. companies selling meth test kits.

After purchasing a kit for around $45, consumers wipe down areas they suspect of meth contamination with swabs -- which are sent into the lab for analysis. Results are usually available within a week, or faster if requested.

According to Pope, about 80% of the test kits are used by "people trying to get some sense of what they are about to purchase, before they close the deal. No one want to inherit additional costs." While the company first catered to consumers in the Rocky Mountain states, Pope says ALS' meth test-kit business has grown nationally by about 400% in the past decade.

The problem for many people facing methamphetamine contamination is what to do next. Cleanup can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and in extreme cases involve stripping a property's interior all the way to the wall studs.

And not all states have laws requiring a meth-tainted property to be decontaminated or that hold a landlord responsible for that cleanup. According to a recent survey by Scripps Howard News Service, 27 states have specific meth-residue disclosure laws when it comes to the purchase of a home, and only 17 have laws requiring landlords to disclose any meth contamination to their tenants.

In some states, the owner doesn't have to tell a prospective homebuyer about any meth contamination, as long as the property has been "remediated," or cleaned up.

More on moneyNOW

Mar 21, 2013 1:25PM
People should know up front if a home was used to cook meth then they can make their own decision about whether or not to move in. Its unfair to not divulge that sort of information and it should be a law in all states to do so.
Mar 21, 2013 12:59PM
It is incredibly unfair to change the paint and carpet on a Meth house, and then sell it to an unsuspecting family.  This problem is not just in poor socioeconomic areas.  I bought a $300,000 dollar house that was in a nice area... The next door neighbor came over with a burned copy of the City Wide news, doing a news story on my house six months prior.  My home was previously rented by a lady who ran a brothel/Meth house complete with a massive amount of illegal guns.  When I bought the house it was never disclosed.  My teenage daughter couldn't sleep, she was so frightened that a "customer"  would show up in the night...
Mar 21, 2013 1:08PM
WOW! I thought they solved this one by innocent people needing to show their I.D. before buying over-the-counter medicine.  Guess not.  Back to the Stupid Board!
Mar 21, 2013 1:21PM
Believe it! Meth saturates the walls & sometimes down to the studs. It is extremely toxic & can be absorbed through the skin. It gets in the ducts. Imagine that the meth heads aren't particular at all about clean-up, because they don't care. They just want to get high. Buy a house with meth in the furnace/ac/cooler & you will be ingesting the meth also. If it saturates the carpets, it's in the floor. If it's cooked in the kitchen, it's in the stove vents & cabinets.
Mar 21, 2013 1:38PM
This should be in the disclosure.  As a seller you have to disclose anything that is wrong or potentially wrong withthe house... same shoul dgo for the government seizing meth homes.
Mar 21, 2013 2:54PM
Mar 21, 2013 2:00PM
I saw a show about a young couple who bought a home cheap in foreclosure or a tax sale or something.  They spent a lot of money fixing the place up really nice and then learned it was uninhabitable due to prior meth lab use.  People be careful out there buying a house because you never know what went on in there.  Take time to talk to the neighbors before you sign on the dotted line.
Mar 21, 2013 2:46PM
Make it the Death penalty for cooking Meth.  Repossess all assets to pay for cleanup.

Meth houses are considered to be toxic waste sites.  The U.S.  Attorney won't even seize a meth house as part of asset forfeiture because of the high cost to clean up the toxic chemicals.  I've seen a million dollar home used for making meth.  If someone buys a home that has been used for making meth they won't be able to resell it without first having it professional decontaminated.  The costs are staggering.

Mar 21, 2013 1:43PM

Many lenders and/or buyers insist on a home inspection

before closing.

It's been years since I bought.

But do home inspectors check for this crap now

(along w/ radon & short wiring, etc.) ???

Mar 21, 2013 11:49AM
oooh But oil companies do not have to disclose what they pump into the ground for fracking. Dual standards?
Mar 21, 2013 1:37PM
Meth house, meth house, meth house.......... (repeat as many times as necessary till you realize that a house is not a home.)  Kind of like how they call it a whore house rather that a whore home.
Mar 21, 2013 2:40PM

Always do your homework when buying a house - planning and zoning info, sex offenders list, everything you can find - and never hesitate to speak with your potentially future neighbors.  


Considering what "trace" amounts can do, somebody would have to be insane to use that crap.  I heard it smells like burning plastic. 



Mar 21, 2013 2:40PM
Agree, people should know up front if the house was used previously as a meth lab. When the ingredients are mixed together, it creates a toxic chemical and poses a major threat to human health and the environment. If you would like to learn more about Meth Labs, and the problems and dangers, please feel free to visit our website.

I will add link at the end of my comment. Simple scroll and select the video called: Clandestine Drug Labs.  While working as a contractor for the U.S. EPA,  I was the Director of Photography and Co-Producer on this video. Please visit our site; Keep It Clean Creative, to view the Clandestine Drug Lab Video.  
Mar 21, 2013 2:57PM
I take offense to your remark of stereo typing description towards the respective homeowners who had fallen on hard times and lost their homes to be placed in your unwavering category on what you proclaim as to  "While contamination is especially prevalent among foreclosed homes and low- to mid-range rental units" 17,000 is hardly a majority from among the hundreds of thousands of people that overall lost homes due to bank paranoia.
Mar 21, 2013 1:47PM
Mar 21, 2013 2:59PM
I see a lot of people demanding that meth contamination be disclosed. It is required in most states. But usually these homes wind up as foreclosures and the bank doesn't know the house's history. You can have it checked but you're going to have to pay for it.
Mar 21, 2013 3:33PM

You have to divulge if anyone died in a house for purchase, but not meth?  Crazy

Mar 21, 2013 7:47PM
And,the effect of babies in cribs in same rooms where Meth is made

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