Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Toxic houses

Imagine a sheriff at your door, informing you that your house was once a meth lab, and that he must evict you. From the Oregonian:Did you buy a meth house?
Scattered throughout Oregon, 337 houses, apartments, hotel rooms and storage units are classified as "unfit for use" by state health authorities. Once used for meth production, the sites need to be tested for hazardous residue, decontaminated and cleared by the state before they can be inhabited again.

Yet many of the homes on the drug-site list have been purchased by unknowing buyers, some of whom have been evicted for trespassing.

In December, the Department of Human Services started a "cold case unit" to finally clear the list of properties, some dating back to 1990. As soon as the agency started sending out letters, they heard from new owners living in meth houses. A few weren't even that new. One family had been living in a house for seven years.

"We have to break it to them softly," said Jennifer Allen, who oversees the DHS cold case unit.

The letters inform property owners of their legal obligation to clean up hazardous residue left by meth cooking.

Over the phone, the homeowners insist that no one told them they were buying a drug house. They raise their voices, threaten lawsuits, tell Allen they won't pay for a decontamination bill from a licensed contractor, which typically costs as much as $12,000.

And they're certainly never willing to move out.

Allen's usual response is a calm explanation of Oregon law: Once police find evidence that a property has been used to cook meth, no one can occupy it or rent it until the state says it's safe...
From the "Anti-Meth Site FAQ's":
Any number of solvents, precursors and hazardous agents are found in unmarked containers at these sites. These potent chemicals can enter the central nervous system and cause neural damage, effect the liver and kidneys, and burn or irritate the skin, eyes and nose. Environmental damage is another consequence of these reckless actions, and violence is often a part of the process as well.

Q. What are the most serious environmental consequences of meth labs?

A: Each pound of meth produced leaves behind five or six pounds of toxic waste. Meth cooks often pour leftover chemicals and byproduct sludge down drains in nearby plumbing, storm drains, or directly onto the ground. Chlorinated solvents and other toxic byproducts used to make meth pose long-term hazards because they can persist in soil and groundwater for years. Clean-up costs are exorbitant because solvent contaminated soil usually must be incinerated.

Q: What is the cost of a cleaning up a clandestine meth lab site?

A: Cleanups of labs are extremely resource-intensive and beyond the financial capabilities of most jurisdictions. The average cost of a cleanup is about $5,000 but some cost as much as $150,000.
They also link to some guidelines for cleaning up former meth labs.
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