Don’t buy a Methamphetamine house

Posted: 5th May 2015 by Doc in Uncategorized

The big blue two-story sitting on a large lot in rural Morgan County seemed like the home of Chris and Jenny Nugent’s dreams.

It was the place the couple envisioned their young family settling down into an idyllic country life.

But only months after moving into their Dream Home, the Nugents found themselves entangled in a nightmare — a financial and emotional mess that, two years later, continues to haunt them.

Their new home, the couple learned after family members began experiencing a variety of health problems, was contaminated by methamphetamine.

The family’s experience also should serve as a warning to prospective home buyers across Indiana: Home inspectors do not routinely test for meth, even though its presence can lead to nausea, diarrhea, body aches, coughing and breathing issues.

And Hoosiers are most at risk.

Indiana has led the nation in meth lab seizures the last two years, with an average of more than four discovered by state police and local law enforcement officers every day. Many of those are in homes. And experts say that is only the tip of the iceberg — thousands of other homes across the state are likely contaminated by residents making or using the potent and potentially toxic drug.

It is a risk the Nugents, like many Hoosiers looking to buy a home, had never even considered. But as the family learned the hard way, the contamination could have been detected by spending a few hundred dollars for testing.

“We were just shell-shocked when we found out,” Jenny Nugent explained. “What I would tell other people looking for a house is to have it tested.”

Disclosure relies on seller’s honesty

Despite the state’s pervasive meth problem, Indiana property law and public health regulations offer limited protections to consumers.

And some of the rules that do exist depend on the honesty of the seller — the very person who also may have been cooking or using the illicit drug.

The state’s real estate sales disclosure form, for instance, asks sellers specifically about meth contamination under a section that covers hazardous conditions.

“Is there contamination caused by the manufacture of a controlled substance on the property that has not been certified as decontaminated by a licensed inspector?” sellers are asked. “Has there been manufacture of methamphetamine or dumping of waste from the manufacture of methamphetamine in a residential structure on the property?”

That disclosure is supposed to be based on the “current actual knowledge” of the seller, but requires an honest answer.

Real estate agents also have a responsibility — under state law covering their duties and obligations — to “disclose to a prospective buyer or tenant adverse material facts or risks actually known by the licensee …”

However, the law notes, “a licensee representing a seller or landlord owes no duty to conduct an independent inspection of the property for the buyer or tenant or to verify the accuracy of any statement, written or oral, made by the seller, the landlord, or an independent inspector.”

In most cases, the fact is, a licensed real estate agent would not know whether or not meth had been made or used in a home.

And testing for meth is not part of a standard pre-sale home inspection in Indiana or any other state.

One potentially helpful tool for home buyers is an Indiana State Police public database launched last year that identifies the locations of meth lab seizures going back to 2007.

But homes and other sites that have been cleaned up to standards set by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are removed from the list. And it doesn’t take into account the untold others where meth has been made or used without police detection.

The true number of contaminated homes remains unknown to authorities and is difficult to estimate, said First Sgt. Niki Crawford, commander of the ISP meth suppression section. While police in Indiana have been aggressive — intervening at an average of more than 1,260 lab sites a year since 2003 — Crawford said that may only represent 25 to 40 percent of the total.

“What we find,” she explained, “is still a low number.”

Symptoms mimic the flu, but stay

Signs of meth contamination aren’t always obvious, and the hazards can linger for months or longer, said Nick Gromicko of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

“It’s a growing concern, and not just for prospective buyers,” he said. “Not long ago we had an inspector in Idaho who was hospitalized” after being exposed to meth residue while going through a home.

“The primary thing that lingers,” said ISP’s Crawford, “is the meth itself.”

The easiest ways to spot contamination, she said, are spills or the haphazard dumping of materials used to make the drug, including acids and solvents.

But the bigger problem — responsible for health hazards that often remain unseen — comes from smoking, or the final stage of the manufacturing process when drug-makers introduce a gas that turns the toxic liquid brew into a solid. Residue from the smoke and gas bubbles permeates rooms and sticks to walls, cabinets and other surfaces.

“Its nothing you are going to be able to look at and see,” Crawford explained. “For the most part, you are not going to know.”

The NACHI websites says “carpeting, wallboard, ceiling tile and fabric may absorb spilled or vaporized chemicals.” The witch’s brew of chemicals used to make the drug includes bleach, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, insecticide, ammonia and muriatic acid.

Crawford said exposure to those chemicals can lead to severe skin irritation and other health problems. Exposure to the more subtle meth residue, she added, can cause nausea, diarrhea, body aches, coughing and breathing issues. Children, the elderly and those with other health problems are most at risk.

“Symptoms often mimic the flu,” she said, “but they will not go away.”

‘Somebody was constantly sick’

The Nugents’ dog and children were the first to experience the symptoms from meth exposure, the tell-tale signs beginning to show up just months after the couple purchased the home in April 2013.

“We all experienced different problems,” Jenny Nugent explained.

The couple’s infant son, who was less than a year old, began experiencing intestinal problems and became uncharacteristically irritable. She suffered shortness of breath and migraines, a symptom also experienced by her oldest daughter. Her husband found himself struggling with a burning sensation in his eyes.

“Somebody was constantly sick,” Jenny Nugent said. “It felt like we were just passing the flu around.”

A chance conversation with a neighbor about 10 months after the family moved into the home finally revealed the likely cause of those troubling symptoms. They were told the former owner and resident were suspected of making and using meth.

When they had the home tested in February 2014, the Nugents were shocked to learn the meth contamination was 18 times the level deemed safe by IDEM — a standard that applied only if the home had been the site of a law enforcement intervention.

“We couldn’t in good conscience keep our kids there,” Jenny Nugent said.

So the family moved out of its new home and into an apartment. Paying rent and a mortgage, plus utilities and insurance on the vacant house, put a strain on the family’s finances. But they decided they would not go back, even after it was successfully decontaminated.

“We debated about going back and it would make sense financially,” she explained. “It’s been such a nightmare and we don’t want to relive all that.”

The couple filed a lawsuit in April 2014 against the former owner and the real estate agent who handled the sale, and the case is pending in Morgan County Superior Court. They claim both the seller and real estate agent “intentionally withheld” information they knew about meth use and contamination at the house.

In court documents, both the sellers and real estate agent deny the Nugents’ claim.

As the court case works slowly through the legal system, the Nugents are in the process of trying to sell the house — and have disclosed the meth issue, as required by law, even though the home has been decontaminated to a safe standard.

It’s the latest development in a saga they could not have fathomed when they bought what they thought was going to be their Dream Home.

Any home is vulnerable

Jenny Nugent has advice for other home buyers.

“I would not trust people,” she said. “Even though they are required to make disclosure, you could still be relying on a drug addict to be honest.”

Instead, she said, prospective buyers should spend the money to have a home tested for meth before they agree to finalizing a purchase.

While neither Indiana nor any other state currently requires meth testing as part of a pre-sale home inspection, Gromicko of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors said many inspectors do offer such testing for an additional fee.

Donetta Held, who operates Bloomfield-based Crisis Cleaning, is a state-certified meth clean-up expert and has been cleaning homes of the drug’s residue since 2007. She said the business gets calls almost daily about meth-contaminated homes.

Held said consumers can get a do-it-youself test kit for about $50, while professional testing can run from several hundred to more than $1,000 per room.

The testing involves taking swab samples from surfaces throughout a room or house. And, she warned, even a clean test result is no guarantee a house is totally free of meth.

“A negative test result,” she explained, “just means there wasn’t meth in the area you tested.”

Held and other experts suggest prospective buyers do a little detective work before closing on a home purchase.

Talk to neighbors and check the state police database, they say. And look for signs, such as missing smoke detectors, chemical stains on walls or floors, security measures such as cameras or baby monitors outside of buildings, and stained or dead vegetation where chemicals were dumped. Other warning signs include discarded equipment used to cook meth: pressure cookers, jugs, pH test strips, rubber gloves, funnels and coffee filters or strainers.

Buyers may also want to talk to local police, even if there hasn’t been a lab seizure, to see if they’ve had any suspicion or tips about meth use at the home.

And Held has one more piece of important advice: In Indiana, meth contamination can be found almost anywhere.

“When I started doing this, I was under the illusion it was just trashy homes,” she said. “But that’s not the case. We see it everywhere — from trailers to some very high-dollar houses.”

http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2015/05/04/buy-meth-house/26900523/

  1. Reblogged this on South Carolina, Free! and commented:
    You can clean up ammonia based labs but iodine based labs are forever dangerous.