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Toxic Cleanup Firms Under Scrutiny

Toxic Cleanup Firms Under Scrutiny



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- In the wake of Utah's methamphetamine epidemic, a wave of entrepreneurs has begun to offer services to clean up homes where the drug has been made or used.

But it's unclear if clean-up artists are performing a needed community service, or bilking homeowners and property managers out of millions of dollars.

Utah has rigid standards, which were drafted in part by state health department toxicologists. If just 0.1 micrograms of the drug is found in an area of 100 square centimeters, a residence is considered contaminated and in need of thorough cleansing.

Critics of the testing and cleanup business say the standard is so low that contamination can be found almost anywhere.

"We're creating a scare where there isn't one," said Kirk Cullimore, an attorney for several apartment complex owners.

Cullimore also says tests are inconsistent and says there's a troubling conflict of interest when those doing the testing are also contracted to clean up.

"If the guy doing the testing is the guy who's going to do the cleanup, of course he's going to find meth." he said.

Chris Kyler, government affairs specialist for the Utah Association of Realtors, agrees and said the state should prohibit meth testers from being "remediators," offering clean-up services.

But Bill Rees, who oversees contamination-specialist certifications for the Department of Environmental Quality, said he's unaware of any fraud and thinks companies are complying with sampling and cleanup requirements.

Kyle Adams, owner of Low Cost Cleanup and Restoration scoffs at the idea of cheating.

"It is real hard, in fact it's impossible, to get a positive reading if there was no methamphetamine there," he said. "You can't make methamphetamine appear where it's not."

Cullimore and others also say health departments, which ultimately rule on whether a residence is inhabitable, have abdicated their responsibility to an industry with little training and no oversight.

But there's not enough time or money to oversee every contamination test, said Brian Reid, an environmental-health specialist for the Salt Lake Valley Health Department. Last week, Reid said spent four hours monitoring tests of six apartments in just one complex.

"We have so many cases that it would take all of our time to monitor every test. We don't have the manpower to do that," he said.

Reid agrees there are holes in the system, but says he doesn't know how to solve the problem.

"I do realize that there is a lot of money possibly at stake," Reid said.

Decontamination of just one apartment can cost as much as $5,000.

Health officials also concede that no concrete research supports the 0.1 standard and that it's not an exposure limit that indicates at what level someone might become sick. But they're erring on the side of caution.

"This is what we felt would be the most protective based on what we know," said Wayne Ball, a health department toxicologist.

------ Information from: The Deseret Morning News, www.desnews.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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