Toxic drug houses could rival leaky building crisis

SACHA HARWOOD
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2013

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Houses left with lethal chemicals soaked into floors, walls and ceilings during meth cooking operations threaten to become as big a problem as the leaky house crisis, experts warn.

Police figures show more than 2000 methampethamine drug ‘labs' have been busted, but Mark Chrysell, of consumer rights television show Fair Go, is warning that could be just the tip of an ugly iceberg.

"I have had people say to me this could be as big as the leaky houses scandal, but nobody knows for sure just how bad the problem is, because I think a lot of people don't want to know."

Fair Go this week shares the plight of one newlywed couple who bought a house in West Auckland and were troubled by a strange smell - described as an odour like cat urine.

Tests in two parts of the house produced readings 23 times above safe levels of chemicals used in meth production - a horrifying discovery, given the woman was eight weeks' pregnant.

Cleaning the house cost money they could ill afford and the fact it was a meth house must now be recorded on the house records, potentially affecting resale value.

Miles Stratford, director of MethMinder, a business that helps clean homes, agreed the problem was massive.

"You've got 2000 properties, more or less, that have been busted by the police; multiply that by 10 or 20 times, then add on the fact meth labs move around; multiply that number by another figure nobody knows."

He said most owners of homes that had been used as meth labs had no idea and were unwittingly selling or renting the property.

Chrysell said it could be difficult to tell if a property had been used for meth production, and the best way to find out was by asking the right questions and getting a test done.

"It gets into the fabric of the house, all the chemicals that are used and they can leak out. Initially, it can be allergies, skin rashes, feel like you're allergic to something in the house."

Rentals, baches and investment properties had a higher chance of being used for meth making, one telltale sign being if the tenant left in a hurry, Chrysell said.

Most owners did not want to know about the issue, with the cost of cleaning a meth house sitting around $10,000 and demolition if the damage was bad enough.

"If they've got a house and they're renting it out and they want to sell it, they're going to take a big hit financially. I think in this case a lot of people are thinking ignorance is bliss," Chrysell said.

Methamphetamine, also known as speed and P, is a class A drug and can cause hallucinations, paranoia and toxic psychosis. It is highly addictive.

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