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Who's responsible for sickness from meth-lab residue in New York?

Last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported finding 147 meth labs, sets of glassware and chemicals, and byproduct-dump sites in New York -- a record high. That points to a growing problem: every meth lab leaves behind toxic chemical residue that could be harmful to later residents, or even neighbors. Unfortunately, renters and homebuyers in New York have no way of knowing whether their new home is a former meth lab.

Unlike with lead paint, New York law currently doesn’t require landlords or home-sellers to disclose meth contamination. Moreover, according to the Elmira Star-Gazette, 25 states have legal standards for meth cleanup to ensure no harmful chemical residue remains, but New York does not.

The chemical residues left behind by meth production are known to be toxic, but just how toxic they may be in the long term isn’t fully known. According to the DEA, each pound of finished meth produces about five pounds of toxic waste, and that may not even include residue left behind on walls and in carpets.

Health experts do know that people can be exposed to meth residues by breathing or through absorption through the skin. Exposure is known to cause breathing problems and other health issues. Most meth-lab responders have at least 40 hours of hazardous materials training and are equipped with protective clothing and breathing equipment.

In 2009, the California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment attempted to assess the possible impact on children who live in former meth-lab homes. Assuming that no cleanup was performed on the home, the meth residue would still be there when new residents arrived. It will then gradually dissipate through cleaning or absorption, a process Cal EPA assumed would take at least four months. Young children who spend most of their time at home -- especially those who crawl on contaminated carpets -- are likely at the highest risk.

There simply isn’t enough research on how hazardous meth-lab residue may be to renters and homeowners. A new law was proposed this year to require landlords and home-sellers to disclose known meth activity, but it never came to a vote. In the meantime, if you or someone in your family is sickened by chemical residues from a former meth lab, you may have a remedy through a premises liability lawsuit.

Sources: 

  • Elmira Star-Gazette, "Buyers, renters left in dark on former meth-making in their new home," Jason Whong, Dec. 16, 2013
  • Integrated Risk Assessment Branch, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency, "Assessment of Children's Exposure to Surface Methamphetamine Residues in Former Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs, and Identification of a Risk-Based Cleanup Standard for Surface Methamphetamine Contamination," Charles B. Salocks, Ph.D., D.A.B.T., Feb. 2009

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