Health Risks from Meth Contamination and How You Can Decontaminate Your Home

It could be tempting to ignore the health risks from meth contamination. But, aside from compliance with NZ law, there are very good reasons that you need to remove and traces of meth from your property.

There are two ways that methamphetamines can contaminate your property. One, is when meth is used recreationally in your home. This ranges from someone who lights up at a party, through to someone who habitually uses. The second way is if the property has been used in ‘cooking’ the meth, as what is commonly known as a meth lab.

Contamination varies, from almost nothing for a one-off party use, to a fully contaminated property caused by the toxic chemical compounds used in the construction of the drug.

What is in meth?

Methamphetamines are a synthetic chemical, made by mixing and processing a number of chemicals together. While the chemicals used aren’t always bad on their own, processed in a home and then ‘cooked’ together, they can be volatile, dangerous and toxic.

Common cold and flu pills are used as a base, as the cook extracts ephedrine/ pseudoephedrine from them. To increase the strength, various chemicals can be involved in the production, such as battery acid, drain cleaner, antifreeze, ammonia, acetone, lye, phosphorous, toluene, benzene, chloroform, freon, ether, petrol and alcohol.

Basically, it’s a toxic, highly combustible mix of chemicals that create a highly addictive and harmful drug.

What are the health effects of methamphetamine contamination?

The degree of toxicity of meth contamination depends on what happened on the property. While the occasional recreational use of meth is likely to be present harm to residents, meth manufacture can contaminate the entire property.

Risks are highest for children. This is simply due to the fact they are smaller than adults yet are exposed to the same amount of chemicals. Their metabolic processes are more susceptible to the effects. They also spend more time in the house, and are more likely to touch surfaces like walls than adults.

In general, the risk of harm increases or decreases depending on what chemical/s are present, how high the concentration levels are, the amount throughout the house, the length of exposure, and how the chemical is ingested.

The short term effects, for adults, children, and pets include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Eye irritation
  • Respiratory problems

Long term, another range of symptoms can be present. A family of five in Australia with three children from seven to eleven years old, lived unknowingly in a former meth lab. Hair samples from them confirmed absorption of the toxic chemicals. Their adverse health effects were most strongly felt by the youngest child.

  • Asthma-like breathing difficulties and symptoms
  • Persistent cough
  • Sleeping problems and nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit/ easily distracted
  • Sore, watery eyes
  • Memory loss
  • Skin rashes
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive energy

All symptoms had resolved six to twelve months after the family had vacated the house.

What is a safe level of methamphetamine contamination exposure?

The New Zealand government conducted a study into the level of safe methamphetamine contamination. They have decided that anything below 1.5 μg/100 cm2 is acceptable. This is 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimetres of surface. This limit is considerably higher than the USA and Australia (0.5 μg/100 cm2) but the same as California (0.3 μg/kg body weight/day).

This level means that on a property that has only experienced some recreational use, there is a low level of risk, and there is no need to undertake decontamination.

How do you know if your property has high levels of methamphetamine contamination?

You will need to get the house tested. At TechClean, this is one of the services we offer. We test a number of locations in the home to see if there is toxic levels of contamination anywhere. For instance, some rooms may be completely meth-free, while the kitchen could have been used as a lab. This testing process ensure that your entire house is safe, but also means if treatment is required, only the spaces that need it are decontaminated.

Can I do meth decontamination myself?

If your levels are low, or if you suspect meth was smoked in a room, then washing soft furnishings and walls and the ceiling down with sugar soap will be enough. This will remove most residue and ensure your home is safe (and it’s a great excuse for a spring clean).

However if contamination levels are high, speak to the professionals. Depending on the severity, it may only need a wash down, or it could mean that wall linings must be removed. Good testing is essential in order to make sure you only clean or remove what is required. There is no point removing all the GIB board unless you have to.

There are some areas that may be difficult to decontaminate unless you’re a professional. HVAC systems and plumbing are a great example of this, and are common sources of chemical residue.

If you are unsure at any point, contact us at TechClean. We are qualified in meth decontamination, and operate throughout Christchurch, Wellington, Nelson and Marlborough. We want to ensure your home or rental property is safe and clean, and we want to make sure you’re only charged for what is needed- no extra services you don’t need.

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