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Meth-contaminated homes are a growing hazard
Health experts say it's a good idea to have your home checked for asbestos, lead, mold or radon gas. But now a growing number of consumers are having their residences or business spaces inspected for another very toxic hazard -- methamphetamine contamination.

According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, police seized more than 17,000 meth labs in the U.S. in 2003. The number of seizures has gone down more recently, but methamphetamine use continues to rise. Officials estimate tens of thousands of homes and other properties have been contaminated by the chemicals used to make the highly addictive drug.

The spilled or vaporized ingredients can be easily absorbed into a variety of home interior carpets, ducts, wall boards, tiles and fabrics -- and even trace amounts can linger there for years. And the chemicals associated with meth -- either in its production or usage -- can cause injuries to the brain, lungs, liver and kidneys, and they can damage a person's nervous and reproductive systems.

There's an economic impact, too. The Denver Post reports more methamphetamine-contr03;aminated properties are being discovered as the housing market recovers. While contamination is especially prevalent among foreclosed homes and low- to mid-range rental units, it has been found in all sorts of neighborhoods and in high-price homes as well.

With more homes getting sold these days, the market for home test kits for meth has grown dramatically. "We probably do hundreds (of these tests) per week," said Paul Pope, project manager at ALS Environmental Laboratories in Salt Lake City, Utah -- one of only a handful of U.S. companies selling meth test kits.

After purchasing a kit for around $45, consumers wipe down areas they suspect of meth contamination with swabs -- which are sent into the lab for analysis. Results are usually available within a week, or faster if requested.

According to Pope, about 80% of the test kits are used by "people trying to get some sense of what they are about to purchase, before they close the deal. No one want to inherit additional costs." While the company first catered to consumers in the Rocky Mountain states, Pope says ALS' meth test-kit business has grown nationally by about 400% in the past decade.

The problem for many people facing methamphetamine contamination is what to do next. Cleanup can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and in extreme cases involve stripping a property's interior all the way to the wall studs.

And not all states have laws requiring a meth-tainted property to be decontaminated or that hold a landlord responsible for that cleanup. According to a recent survey by Scripps Howard News Service, 27 states have specific meth-residue disclosure laws when it comes to the purchase of a home, and only 17 have laws requiring landlords to disclose any meth contamination to their tenants.

In some states, the owner doesn't have to tell a prospective homebuyer about any meth contamination, as long as the property has been "remediated," or cleaned up.
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