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When you became a property owner or landlord, you likely never expected your life to feel like a day on the set of Breaking Bad. That is, you probably never thought the space you’d live in, rent out, or run your business from would’ve been previously occupied by a methamphetamine laboratory, also known as a “meth lab.” But the truth is meth labs exist all across the country, with the 2014 total reaching more than 9,000 labs, dumpsites, and chemical and glassware seizure sites, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Meth labs are where methamphetamines, also called “meth,” “speed,” “crank,” “crystal” and “ice,” are made (“cooked”), stored, or used. This powerful drug affecting the central nervous system is man-made, and the production typically takes place in illegal laboratories set up in homes, apartments, lodging rentals, office building, and abandoned structures throughout rural areas, small towns, large cities, and suburban neighborhoods. While it’s up to the DEA and other law enforcement officials to shut down a meth lab, including removing equipment and chemicals, residual contamination means you’re the one left with a hazardous mess to clean up.
Meth is made with a variety of different harmful chemicals that when mixed together can result in toxic residues, fumes, and vapors. Long after the meth lab is shut down, walls, floors, and other surfaces in the building can continue to be contaminated until properly cleaned. These potentially deadly chemicals can be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed through the skin leading to adverse health effects if exposure occurs.
Unlike lead paint and black toxic mold, meth labs rarely have to be legally disclosed during the real estate transaction process. Given how many properties may be contaminated prior to selling and the risks involved with exposure, it’s important to approach new properties with a “buyer beware” mentality. Here are some warning signs to look for:
Given the hazards involved with meth-making chemicals, it’s best to leave clean up to the professionals–restoration and remediation experts skilled and trained in proper environmental techniques of hazardous waste removal and cleanup. If the suspected area has not yet been cleaned, avoid entering the space unless absolutely necessary. When entering, always be sure to wear protective clothing, eyewear, gloves, and face masks.
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