The problem of property contamination by methamphetamine residue is wide-spread and it is very difficult to get information about how a contaminated property can be remediated.
First we must look at what we mean by CONTAMINATED.
Properties Where Meth Has Been Smoked
By far the absolute majority of properties tested positive for methamphetamine residue are from usage of the drug rather than manufacture. There is no disputing the fact that a property contaminated due to usage is a whole different proposition from the toxic hell-hole of a former clan lab. Usage will over time create a build-up of residue on all surfaces and at higher concentrations is certainly going to be a health hazard. Living in a highly contaminated house where meth has been used means you will likely be absorbing it through your skin when you contact surfaces and you may be breathing it in as it re-enters the air due to vacuuming or sanding it etc.
There is currently a great deal of debate around what should be considered a safe or inhabitable level of contamination. The current guideline of 0.5µg/100cm² is almost certainly too low. It’s a tiny amount of chemical, so small it is hard to even describe. We are talking about half of 1000 th of a gram in an area 10cm by 10cm square. It is likely that a more realistic level will be set in the near future and we imagine it will be 5 to 10 times higher than it currently is.
That said, there are no major studies on the effects of methamphetamine at low level exposure over long periods of time. Small children in particular are exposed as they crawl along the floor and put hands in mouths etc.
Methamphetamine hydrochloride is the salt commonly known as crystal meth or P in NZ. It is actually water soluble so does not require particularly strong chemicals to wash it away. The main issue we have seen with cleaning it is that the person cleaning can’t see the chemical as they wash it away. This can cause it to collect in concentrated areas that may in fact cause higher readings during a retest. Also meth tends to stick to varnishes and polyurethanes making it hard to remove from those surfaces. Some evidence exists that bleaches may somehow cause the concentrations to intensify although it is not clear what mechanism causes this.
Soft furnishings and porous surfaces are more of a problem so a contaminated bathroom (and we see many) is a much easier to clean-up than say a bedroom.
The best advice we can give is to contact a reputable company that uses non-corrosive detergents in equipment that involves pumping of water such as carpet cleaners. Anyone who tells you they can effectively clean with wipes or a wet rag is unlikely to fix anything, they may make matters worse.
Properties Where Meth Has Been Manufactured
The only guideline we currently have in NZ relating to methamphetamine contamination relates to remediation of clandestine laboratories.
The production of methamphetamine in clandestine labs can be accomplished using various unsophisticated methods to produce methamphetamine hydrochloride from its precursor compounds. None of these methods look anything like the clean, ventilated laboratory used in Breaking Bad and certainly the people involved in manufacture of methamphetamine are not qualified industrial chemists. All the ‘cooking’ methods involve the use of extremely corrosive chemicals and the vapours produced are damaging to both people and property.
Often clandestine labs produce a large amount of waste by-products that need to be disposed-of and soil contamination as a result can be a huge problem. Tests on former labs tend to show levels in the 100’s or 1000’s of micrograms and usually we see levels of precursor compounds also.
You cannot begin to make a remediation plan until you know the full extent of the contamination. This will be achieved by a number of laboratory samples being taken to provide a picture of the epicentre and spread of the chemicals.
There is no simple way to remediate a former clan lab. We know that soft furnishings must be disposed-of and it pays to have ceiling insulation tested also. The presence of heavy metals and corrosive chemicals means that tradespeople who specialise in remediation should be involved but usually in consultation with the company who provided the test report.
We have heard of situations where the cheapest option, and the one that provided the most confidence going forward, was to demolish the house altogether. The problem is that once methamphetamine is identified in a property, there is an inclination to feel that every illness or symptom of any kind must be a result of the toxic substance.
Having seen so many different scenarios over the years we will be in a good position to discuss the various options available to you. We do not undertake clean-ups or remediation so our advice will be independent at all times. We can provide you with all necessary tests and retests once work has been done.
You don’t need to panic but you should definitely test.