OGDEN — Maxine McNeeley, 74, claims that within three months of settling into her apartment on lower 27th Street, she began to feel uncharacteristically weak.
After two years in her second floor unit of the Valencia Apartments complex, McNeeley’s daughter grew concerned about her mother’s deteriorating condition and on a hunch, tested the place for methamphetamine contamination.
The kit showed a level of 3.6 micrograms, well above the state’s 1.0 microgram standard that triggers the need for decontamination.
At that point, a state-certified inspector was called in to conduct an official test that yielded 3.7 micrograms.
“I went from walking several miles a day to only half a block before getting worn out,” said McNeeley, who doesn’t own a car. “I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to recover my health.”
McNeeley, who has a Section 8 rent subsidy, was recently relocated to a different apartment complex. But most of her worldly belongings were left behind at Valencia pending cleanup.
Maxine McNeeley, 74, of Ogden, posed for a portrait among her contaminated possessions at her apartment at the Valencia Apartments on 27th St., on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. McNeeley, who resided in the apartment for two years, began to feel weaker and weaker just after three months of living there. At the request of her daughter she had the apartment tested for meth. The result was 3.6, 2.6 points over the legal limit.
On Tuesday, McNeeley returned to pick up a few things, including the ashes of a daughter who died in 2010. However, her mattress, box springs and a hide-a-bed might not be salvageable.
Meth contamination affects people differently, said Brian Cowan, deputy director of environmental health at Weber-Morgan Health Department.
“There’s so much variability,” Cowan said, noting that some will develop head and body aches, fatigue and respiratory distress.
“But it’s worse for the elderly, children and people with immuno-compromised systems.”
The apartment owners, Salt Lake City-based LaPorte Group, are currently putting together a remediation plan.
“They’ll submit it to our department for our review, and then we’ll issue a permit to begin clean-up,” Cowan said, noting the owner is legally responsible to cleanse the floors, walls and ceilings.
After the cleanup is finished, the health department will conduct another test to assess whether the decontamination has been successful. If it has, a letter wil be issued to say the unit has been remediated and is safe for occupancy, Cowan said.
From indicators inside the apartment, Cowan said the contamination likely stemmed from meth use rather than production.
Tim Price, executive director for the Ogden Housing Authority, said such incidents are rare but “alarming.”
“Those meth units are bad, obviously, and we certainly don’t want to see any of our tenants go into them,” Price said.
Travis James, special programs manager for the Ogden Housing Authority, said the agency learned of McNeeley’s predicament within the past week and immediately required the landlord to perform a certified test.
When it registered higher than minimum contamination levels, the housing authority issued McNeeley a voucher to move and canceled the contract with Valencia for that particular unit, James said.
Once the health department gives clearance that the apartment is meth-free, the unit can go back on the housing authority’s list for subsidized tenants.
“The landlord has been really proactive and was surprised when the test came back positive,” James said.
According to Cowan, Valencia Apartments has a zero-tolerance rule regarding drug use.
“So they’re working to get the problem addressed,” Cowan said. “We don’t see it on a regular basis, but it does happen.”
Attempts to reach the LaPorte Group or Valencia’s attorney, Kirk Cullimore Jr., were unsuccessful.
Homegrown meth labs spiked in Utah between 2003 and 2005, driving tighter regulation of the drug’s precursors. In 2004, state lawmakers passed decontamination legislation that was amended in 2008 to include residual effects caused by methamphetamine use.
As for McNeeley, she’s happy to be relocated.
“The meth kit could have saved my life,” she said.
Whether her former landlord will help with any of her personal costs remains to be seen. But she hopes that her experience can help someone else.
“Sometimes you have to stand up and face the machine,” McNeeley said. “I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it for others.”