New Rules for Cleaning Up Meth Houses

New Rules for Cleaning Up Meth Houses

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John Hollenhorst reportingIt's an urban nightmare that happens all too often: Crooks set up an illegal drug lab and contaminate a house with stuff that could make people sick for years to come.

Now, officials are putting the finishing touches on a new program to insure proper cleanup.

The state is establishing new rules to make sure only companies that know what they're doing are allowed to clean up a house after it was used for an illegal drug lab. And they're setting new health standards to define when it's safe for someone to move back in.

Technicians in protective gear, dismantling a drug lab; it's such a common sight it's not even news anymore. On average, police have reported illicit labs to the Health Department more than twice a week for the last six years. And that's just in the Salt Lake Valley.

Since 1996, at least 730 residences have been contaminated by crooks.

Brad Johnson/ Utah Dept. of Environmental Quality: "They aren't particularly careful with the chemicals that they use."

They typically brew methamphetamines, "speed," with chemicals like iodine, phosphorous and ephedrine. They leave behind nasty stuff like acids, toxic fumes, organic poisons.

Brad Johnson: "In some cases, if you spill the materials they will stay there indefinitely, essentially."

People who move in later sometimes suffer, like the family we reported on two years ago.

Lisa Schmidt/ Sept. 27, 2002: "I've been treated for depression since I've lived here. We all get headaches. We all have diarrhea."

In many cases a house can be cleaned up. But state officials are just now setting up the rules and regulations.

Brad Johnson: "At least on a statewide basis, there hasn't really been any control over who cleans up the material and just how it is cleaned up."

So state officials are spelling out new limits for chemical concentrations in a home. That's to make sure a chemical mop-up gets the place clean enough. And contractors will have to be certified, with a written exam, to insure proper experience and training.

Brad Johnson: "This just gives us a degree of comfort in that there aren't companies out there doing it who don't know what they're doing."

Cleanup contractors we spoke with today generally support the new regulations, although one predicted cleanup costs will skyrocket. State officials deny that.

But make no mistake; it's expensive even now. It often costs many thousands of dollars to clean up after sloppy criminals.

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