Houses formerly used as meth labs, called meth houses, put their residents at risk of serious health consequences. Upon moving into a meth house, people have experienced short-term health problems ranging from migraines and respiratory difficulties to skin irritation and burns. Long-term problems may cause cancer in humans. And because children have small, developing bodies and a tendency to play on the ground and put things in their mouths, they are especially susceptible to adverse health effects from meth toxins.
The chemicals used in methamphetamine production are highly toxic and range from pseudoephedrine—the main ingredient in meth and the active ingredient in decongestants—to any one of 32 other precursor chemicals. These include acetone, the active ingredient in nail polish remover, and phosphine, a widely used insecticide.
Home-cooking meth spreads toxins to every inch of the room where the meth was cooked and beyond. Nothing escapes contamination—the carpet, walls, furniture, drapes, air ducts, and even the air itself becomes toxic. Ingesting some of these chemicals, even a tiny drop can cause immediate death.
Police treat methamphetamine labs as hazardous waste sites. They remove meth-making hardware and chemicals, and often hire professional cleaning companies to sanitize the house. In dealing with toxic chemicals, most meth lab clean-up crews follow general guidelines. In the room where the meth was made, they scrub all surfaces, repaint the walls, replace the carpets and air filters, and air out the property.
Of all the toxic chemicals in a meth house, the drug itself is probably the hardest to clean up, but it’s actually the least toxic. The precursor chemicals pose the greatest health risk to residents of a former meth lab. When people smoke or shoot meth they face serious health risks, but they usually don’t die—they just get high. Many of meth’s toxic precursors, if smoked or injected, are lethal.
Even if a meth house is cleaned properly, the toxins may hang around. According to local research in the region of Peel, professional meth house cleanup contractors estimate that about 90 percent of meth houses are never uncovered, and their tenants will likely never know about their homes’ toxicity.
Do your own research.
Contact the Peel Regional Police and see if your home was designated as a meth lab in the past. They have a national meth lab registry that shows where meth labs have been found.
Call the environmental health agency in the region of Peel. They should have a record of any residence where a meth lab was discovered and what the homeowner was required to clean up.
The best thing you can do is go to the neighborhood and speak with neighbors. They usually know if there has been any recent criminal activity and will likely tell you if a meth lab has been in the area.
If you are unsure if a home with a former meth lab was cleaned properly before you moved in, check with your insurance company. There are tests available and your homeowner’s policy may cover those expenses.