Methamphetamine-Contaminated Houses

Houses that have contained methamphetamine laboratories can be found in all parts of the country and at all income levels. All of these houses put current and future occupants, especially children under the age of 2, at extremely serious risk of a multitude of health hazards or death. The chemicals, including acetone, phosphine, iodine, hydrogen chloride, anhydrous ammonia, etc., used in the production of methamphetamine, their precursor chemicals, and their byproducts are extremely toxic at the time of production and for many years to come. The cooking process aerosolizes the chemicals and allows them to penetrate many surfaces within the structure. There is a constant hazard of potential explosions due to the use of the chemicals. Police and firemen are also exposed when they come to the house. Sinus problems, respiratory problems, migraine headaches, skin irritation, and burns are common. Prenatal exposure can result in placental problems, fetal distress, and postpartum hemorrhage.

In Missouri alone, 12,354 methamphetamine laboratories were found by authorities and closed between 1998 and 2010. Home-cooking methamphetamine spreads toxins to all parts of the house including carpets, walls, furniture, drapes, air ducts, anything found in the house, and even the air.

Before an individual purchases a property, he/she should inquire about the history of the property and if necessary have a certified inspector evaluate the potential for methamphetamine having been produced in the structure. Where methamphetamine is found, an extremely thorough process must be used for removal of all chemicals to make the structure safe. This is an expensive process.

Best Practices for Cleanup of Methamphetamine Contaminated Houses

  • • Ask law enforcement to accompany the individuals preparing to clean up methamphet- amine-contaminated houses.
  • • Determine the types, concentrations and quantities of chemicals used in the structure and the areas which have been contaminated.
  • • Clean until there are no remnants of the chemicals in any areas of the structure.
  • • Repair or replace appliances and surfaces which have become contaminated. Remove contaminated items to secure landfills.
  • • Thoroughly air out the building and clean all of the vents and heating and air-conditioning ducts.
  • • Dispose of all carpets, drapes, clothing, furniture and other substances which may have been contaminated.
  • • After thoroughly washing the inside of all the walls, floors, and windows, air out the structure and repaint all the surfaces.
  • • Check all plumbing, septic tank systems and other potential underground disposal areas for chemicals and thoroughly clean the areas.
  • • Retest the inside of the structure after the cleanup and repair.
  • • Avoid having young children or pregnant women move into the structure wherever possible. Outdoor Air Pollution
  • (See Chapter 2, “Air Quality (Outdoor [Ambient] and Indoor)”)

Urban air is contaminated by dense street traffic in congested city areas. The air acts as a stream carrying the pollutants from automobiles, residential boilers, bus depots, sewage treatment plants, industry, power plants, and waste disposal sites. These pollutants have certainly contaminated the adjacent land which is now usually very cheap and has become the area of residence of the poor. This creates an environmental justice problem because most municipalities are concerned about building or renovating the downtown areas and spend huge sums of money doing this while neglecting the areas of the city where the poor live and which are obviously substantially contaminated by pollutants.

Further, outdoor air pollutants, as well as fumes from heating of the properties, cooking and smoking in other areas of the building, can easily move through apartments and other areas creating potential health effects for the residents, especially the children. Outdoor air pollutants include arsenic, benzene, diesel exhaust, dioxins, endocrine disruptors, mercury, nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, PCBs, sulfur dioxide, ultraviolet radiation, and volatile organic compounds.

Along with the previously mentioned air pollutants, increased particulate matter from fires, volcano eruptions or explosions set off by terrorists can result in acute and chronic illnesses of the respiratory system, especially in children. There is an increase in respiratory symptoms, decrease in lung function, exacerbation of asthma and development of chronic bronchitis. The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons can reduce fetal growth, increase the risk of developmental and behavioral problems, reduce IQs and add to the precursors of asthma. High particulate levels have been associated with increased numbers of preterm births, low birth weight and increased infant mortality. Climate change can increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease, the production of ground-level ozone, and the risk of hazardous air pollutants.

Best Practices for Air Pollution (See Chapter 2, “Air Quality (Outdoor [Ambient] and Indoor)”) Pesticides

In the United States, 78 million homes use home and garden pesticides including many that are toxic. When children are exposed to these pesticides, the risk of childhood leukemia is increased by about seven times. These chemicals can also increase the numbers of miscarriages, suppress nervous, endocrine and immune systems, and increase the risk of children developing asthma.

Chlorpyrifos, which is banned for household use in the United States but still used in agriculture, is associated with early childhood developmental delay. Exposure to this chemical results in mental and physical impairments and increases the risk for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children, especially in low-income areas, where the chemical was previously used to control insect infestation. Diazinon, which also had been used widely in housing, had adverse effects on children. Young children have greater exposure to the chemicals because they play on the floor or in the grass, and they frequently put things in their mouth. (See endnote 39.)

Pesticides found in food and water, especially in rural areas, even in low concentrations, may affect the health of children. It is suspected that pesticides can contribute to three major developmental disabilities: autism, cerebral palsy, and severe mental retardation. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 requires that a 10-fold factor be in place in risk assessments for pesticide residue for food consumed by infants and children.

Accumulations of toxins from a variety of sources are considered to be a very significant problem for children.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the natural function of hormones that control natural development in the body. They may be present in very small quantities but still cause harm. They are especially problematic in pregnancy and in the fetal, infant, childhood, and adolescent stages. The endocrine disruptors can come from municipal waste disposal and incineration, from agriculture (with the weed-killer atrazine being a primary example) or any other exposure to chemicals which may be found in cosmetics, plastics, perfumes, etc. Phthalates and BPA are two of the chemicals most incriminated in causing health effects. The Endocrine Disruptor Screening and Testing Program was required by the Food Quality Act and the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act.

Chromated copper arsenate, a compound used as a chemical wood preservative containing chromium, copper, and arsenic, has been used out of doors to protect wood, including play equipment, from insects and microbes. Railroad ties are treated with this preservative. When they are removed from areas where there are no longer being used they can leave behind high levels of arsenic in the soil. Also if they are recycled and used in gardens or as retention walls, they can easily contaminate the new areas. This substance is highly dangerous for children. (See Chapter 9, “Insect Control, Rodent Control, and Pesticides.”)

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