EPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Houston, We Have A [Drug] Problem

Unfortunately, meth usage is a growing problem in Australia, more widespread than most people realise. Bryan Goodall from Octief explains why we all need to be proactive about the growing problem of meth users in Australia, especially when it comes to property management.

According to ABC News1, the number of Australians using the illegal drug methamphetamine – including crystal methamphetamine, or ice (meth) – has tripled over the past five years, based on National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre estimates. In 2015, according to the Australian Crime Commission, police found 744 secret meth labs across Australia.

There are sometimes no signs whatsoever of meth consumption going on

With these statistics comes an increased risk that a property you manage, or your agency has listed for sale, may be contaminated. And this is not just those ‘clandestine meth labs’ that you may have seen some sensational headlines about in the past; the ones where you see the tenants have used the kitchen or garage as a meth lab. Those are the obvious ones: If you walk into a property where the tenants or previous owners have been ‘baking bad’, there are some pretty tell-tale signs that there has been cooking or manufacturing in that house.

The bigger issue is now more about meth users ‘at home’ or in the property. The reason for this is that there are sometimes no signs whatsoever of meth consumption going on. It could be your house, my house or any other house – and it looks and smells like any other house would. Nothing is strange or out of place and you have no way of knowing whether the place is contaminated just by looking at it.

But the issue is that it will be contaminated, sometimes at the same levels that would result if there were a drug lab in the property. This poses some serious risks, especially for people who don’t know they are around that contamination. It is totally feasible that one set of tenants moved out, leaving everything nice and tidy; maybe even putting on a fresh coat of paint on the way out. Then the new tenant moves in and the only sign that there was ever meth in the property may be a sudden illness, or someone doesn’t know where their strange symptoms are coming from. So we really need to ‘debunk’ the commonly held belief that meth contamination only results from clandestine drug labs. The subject of usage is a much more widespread problem and sadly it’s on the rise.

Unfortunately, the drug meth is such a toxic and powerful drug that residue can seep into any porous surface – carpet, curtains, even timber floors and frames.

Our neighbours in New Zealand have been more proactive about the problem than us here in Australia. There was a case in Wellington in 2013; a watershed moment where meth-using tenants cost the owner somewhere in the vicinity of $65,000 on the sale of their property. Locals had alerted the real estate agent selling the house to do the testing after rumours that the property had been used to manufacture the drug. In fact, once tested, it showed that there was only recreational use; but that was enough to damage the property’s value.2

Today in New Zealand it is common practice to regularly benchmark properties for traces of the drug. As a result of this and an intense media push and public awareness campaign meth usage has dropped considerably. In America, many cases have been published in the New York Daily News and on methlabhomes.com, highlighting serious injuries to the occupants and some causing their children severe illness as well. We need to do our bit to raise awareness too.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • When a home has been used as a meth lab, it typically costs anything from $25,000 to $100,000 to clean it up.
  • In NSW alone, six to 10 homes are demolished due to meth contamination each year.
  • Smoking is now the most popular way to consume meth; and it causes worse contamination than injecting or inhaling (or, for that matter, any other method of ingesting the drug)

When purchasing a property we check for things like termites, and other dangers like lead paint and asbestos, as a matter of course. It stands to reason that we should take action where possible to keep our owners’ investments safeguarded and future tenants free from illnesses that can be a result of meth contamination. Education is a step in the right direction.

ABC News

bryan-goodallAbout the Author

Bryan Goodall is the National Sales Manager for Octief, a leading environmental consulting group offering a diverse range of hazardous material, environmental, asbestos and laboratory analysis services.

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