A clandestine drug lab uncovered at a home in Sydney’s inner West earlier this year.
A clandestine drug lab uncovered at a home in Sydney’s inner West earlier this year.

Ice house? Your home could be full of methamphetamine toxins

Australian researchers have discovered the current methods for testing whether a home has been used as a clandestine drug lab aren't effective enough, and deadly toxins hiding in the house can infect household items, and even its water supply for years.

According to recent crime statistics from the Australian Institute of Criminology, 432 clandestine drug labs were uncovered nationwide in the 2018 financial year, and more than 70 per cent of them were in residential areas.

Several companies currently offer services in a largely unregulated industry that test homes for contamination and toxic residue left behind by chemical drug labs and drug use.

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The testing usually involves swiping surfaces throughout the home, collecting samples by swabbing a 100 square centimetre area.

Police uncovered this clandestine drug lab at Lidcombe in Sydney’s Inner West earlier this year.
Police uncovered this clandestine drug lab at Lidcombe in Sydney’s Inner West earlier this year.

If a tested sample returns levels of more than 0.5 micrograms then the house is considered to be contaminated.

But new research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Environmental Health suggests this method of sampling doesn't show the full extent of a contamination.

"Our results demonstrate that methamphetamine has continued to mobilise after manufacture when the property was under new ownership for a period exceeding five years," said Flinders University researcher Dr Kirstin Ross.

"This suggests that the methamphetamine is not breaking down or being removed and is constantly transferred from contaminated to non-contaminated objects.

"The house was suspected to be a premises used to cook methamphetamine, it was then sold, lived in for several years by the new owners and then left unattended," said Dr Ross.

The research found that despite not having been used to cook drugs for several years, contamination levels remained high both in parts of the house that were present during the suspected cooking such as blinds, carpets and walls, but also in things like rugs, beds and toys that were brought in later.

One common household item proved particularly susceptible.

"The most significant mass of methamphetamine was reported to be within the blinds," Dr Ross said.

Police investigating clandestine drug labs where protective clothing, but the toxins could remain for years to come.
Police investigating clandestine drug labs where protective clothing, but the toxins could remain for years to come.

"These are plastic blinds that were present when manufacture was suspected to have been undertaken. This is consistent with observations from other properties where higher levels of methamphetamine are present in materials such as PVC, polyurethane and stained and varnished timbers."

Dr Ross said it's important for occupants to understand how contaminated a home is to ensure it is safe for them to live there.

"Without fully understanding the extent of contamination it's difficult to ensure the correct and most effective remedial approaches are taken so occupants can safely live inside a property which was previously used to produce methamphetamine."

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While internal plumbing is traditionally copper or other metal, more modern builds commonly use PVC and other plastic piping that the research suggests could be more susceptible to contamination.

But there are also concerns that the threshold for contamination is set too low, leading to an unrealistic level of contaminated homes.

A report last year from the then chief scientist of New Zealand Professor Peter Gluckman said that there was "no evidence that chronic exposure to methamphetamine at levels several times higher" than the advised 0.5 micrograms "will lead to adverse health effects".

The report also noted that there was no evidence showing adverse health effects from third-hand exposure to residue left behind from methamphetamine being smoked, but noted that an "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" of adverse health effects.

Following the report, New Zealand's housing department raised its contamination level to 15 micrograms, 30 times what is considered contaminated in Australia.

Should more be done to ensure former drug labs are decontaminated? Let us know what you think in the comments below.


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