METHAMPHETAMINE TESTING INFORMATION SHEET FOR REAL ESTATE AGENTS
AND HOUSE OWNERS
There is a steady increase in the use of methamphetamine (otherwise called ‘P’ or meth) throughout most sectors of society and the NZ Ministry of Health Drug Use Statistics suggest that ±3% of the NZ population use methamphetamine on a regular basis. This is approximately 140,000 people.
Methamphetamine is relatively easy to manufacture but because illegal manufacture seriously contaminates a dwelling and leaves obvious traces, most methamphetamine is manufactured away from city residential properties in more remote locations and rural properties.
Nevertheless, methamphetamine is still manufactured in local neighbourhoods and from time to time we come across properties where there is serious contamination either from heavy use or from an amateur laboratory. In such cases properties need decontamination by a trained team. This may involve complete replacement of interior wall and ceiling linings and carpets. Fortunately such situations are very rare.
The commonest situation we find is contamination from individual use and minor traces are relatively easy to remedy by steam cleaning of carpets and/or thorough washing of walls and interior surfaces.
WHAT LEVELS OF CONTAMINATION WOULD CAUSE CONCERN?
The New Zealand Standard suggests that levels below 1.5µ (1.50 parts per million) can be managed with thorough cleaning. Our screening tests are very accurate and can detect levels up to and exceeding this limit with an on-the-spot test. Between 0.05µ to 1.5µ would require a good general clean, but above the 1.5µ level we would recommend secondary and extensive testing of each room in the property including crawl spaces and roof spaces. Samples collected during secondary testing are chemically assayed to give an accurate indication of levels and recommendations for remediation.
Owners need to be aware that if not detected and managed, methamphetamine contamination can be harmful to the health of people living in the residence—especially young children.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
For landlords we suggest a screening test of a property between tenants. Methamphetamine contamination is more commonly found in rental properties so testing between tenants would be sensible. Another tip would be to include in the rental agreement the requirement for a methamphetamine test before release of the rental bond so that tenants are aware this matter is taken seriously. If this puts them off signing an agreement, maybe a problem has been averted. While this may seem somewhat onerous, recent legislation puts the burden of care onto landlords who may open themselves to action from tenants who have rented a contaminated house – even if the landlord was unaware of this.
For property buyers we also recommend an initial screening to give comfort and knowledge that the property is not at risk. We have found methamphetamine contamination in very high-end properties, so the appearance and value of the property is no real indicator of the presence or absence of contamination. Banks and Insurance Companies are regularly asking for an independent screening test (usually as part of the property inspection report) and it is increasingly common that Insurers are putting a maximum payout amount on decontamination repairs. Buyers should check with their Insurer and make sure they know the extent of cover available.
We do stress that owners don’t rush into unnecessary expense and commission full-scale testing unless there is good reason to suspect contamination. A screening test will give reassurance in most cases and the results of this initial test are an empirical guide regarding what to do next. As methamphetamine use is common and residential methamphetamine labs are rare, a screening test should be sufficient for most purposes and we can advise the extent of decontamination required.
While it is useful for potential buyers to assure themselves that no trace of methamphetamine usage is in a property they own or plan to buy, landlords are especially vulnerable as tenants are more likely to manufacture or use Methamphetamine and either will leave indelible traces. However ….
There's a big difference between living in a house where someone smoked methamphetamine and living in a house that was used to manufacture the drug." National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep says. "People living in a laboratory environment risk suffering adverse cardiovascular, respiratory and dermal effects following the exposure to organic solvents, a house where previous tenants had used methamphetamine and there is some evidence of low concentrations on surfaces, have minimal risks of toxicity."
"The risks would be similar for people who live in a house that had previous dwellers who smoked cigarettes or marijuana. They will have exposure to these drugs, but the concentrations will not be sufficiently high enough to cause either psychoactive or toxic effects to people who may have had inadvertent, and brief, dermal contact with these surfaces."
Properties that have been the location of a methamphetamine lab or housed heavy users may have significant contamination and subsequent dwellers will probably report skin irritation, eye conditions and respiratory discomfort.
Tests showing low levels of contamination do not mean owners will have to undertake extensive repairs or involve commercial cleaners. Quorum will give screening information regarding levels that are manageable with little more than a wash down of surfaces with detergent and water plus carpet cleaning. However, if our tests show contamination well above the 1.5 µ level then we can advise appropriate action. Most houses we test come below this level so a good cleaning may reduce any short or long-term risk. If contamination is found we undertake to lab test using our certified digital analyser to provide test details in nanometres (1000th of a microgramme). These tests are fully accurate and are a useful guide to remediation.
Research shows that frequently people are unaware of the causes of their general feelings of malaise and we hear the term 'a sick house' being used. Often respiratory discomfort is thought to be cause by dampness, mould or other factors. Methamphetamine traces are often the last things people expect.
On a practical level, housing seriously contaminated with methamphetamine may be worth less and may require extensive decontamination. Even after such decontamination there may still be doubts in the mind of a future buyer about the possible long-term effects of methamphetamine use.
Quorum Health takes a health focused approach to the use of methamphetamine and its staff are experienced professionals who can candidly discuss the health risks associated with contamination. Reassurance and peace of mind are not far away.
We can travel to rural areas and undertake a screening test usually with quite short notice and will produce a detailed report within 24 hours.