Special Assignment: Is your house a meth house?

By: Lynnsey Gardner Email
By: Lynnsey Gardner Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock, March 16, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Imagine moving into your dream home...only to find out it used to house a meth lab.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has a website geared at arming you with that knowledge firsthand. The site is filled with addresses of former meth homes. According to the site, Richmond County has more former meth homes than any other county in Georgia, or any county in South Carolina.

We found a home that from the outside looks like it could be in a neighborhood near you, from the bird houses to the rocking chairs. But it's a neighbor you might not want. In 2006, the people living in the Augusta home were busted for running a meth lab.

Another white picket fence home with stuffed animals on the porch was busted that same year. The problem is, no one told the woman who lives there before she moved in last month. To protect her privacy, we'll call her "Cindy".

"I didn't know that," Cindy told News 12.

"Does that make you nervous at all?" we asked.

"Yes, it does."

We found Cindy's address on the DEA's National Clandestine Laboratory Register, http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/seizures/.

"If it's that bad and they have to decontaminate it, and the house being this old, how do I know they really got it all out?" Cindy asked.

A husband and wife were arrested at the Harrisburg house after meth-making chemicals were found inside--chemicals like battery acid; muraitic acid; alcohol, including gasoline additives and ether; and chloroform.

Those chemicals may have once been in the same home where Cindy's three grandchildren now play.

"If I had known it was a meth lab and they were actually making it here, I would've thought twice about moving here," Cindy said.

It was a different story with a woman we'll call "Michelle". We found her living in a Wylie Drive home that was busted as a meth lab on Halloween 2008.

"Everything that could be removed is removed, even the kitchen sink," Michelle said.

News 12 cameras were rolling with hazard crews worked seven hours to clean the home. Its back window is still branded from that day.

Michelle, a recovering meth addict herself, moved in three weeks ago. She says her landlord told her up front, and that was enough.

"I cleaned up the trash," Michelle said. "Found some needles in the trash."

She's kicked everything out to the curb, almost. All of the previous owner's possessions are now in a heaping pile on the driveway--including furniture and belongings Michelle is worried may be contaminated with harmful chemicals.

Michelle won't let her kids visit her while she rents here.

"You don't want to put your kids at risk," she said. "You can put yourself at risk because you know what risk you are taking. A child can't get up and say 'I don't want to live here because this is how I feel.'"

Dr. Greene Shepherd with MCG Health says those risks could be great.

"Highly dangerous. A lot of chemicals in there," he said. Problems include "allergy irritation, and maybe even cancer risk, depending on what was used there."

Once homes are discovered to have meth labs inside, protocol is for contractors to come in and clean them out.

"You don't really know what the quality of the cleanup is, and there is no standards for verification of the clean up," Dr. Shepherd said. "It's basically the contractor says, 'I've done a good job.'"

Dr. Shepherd's advice is to check to see who the cleaning company was for yourself and verify it's a reputable company. If you aren't pleased, you may consider having the home retested.

Cindy says those are choices she wouldn't have had if a news crew hadn't come knocking on her door.

"If the potential hazard is there, I should have been told," she said. "It is home and I don't want to move."

But if she finds there are any leftover dangers, Cindy says she will no longer call this meth home "home".

To take a look for yourself, just go to http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/seizures/. From there you can pick any of the 50 states to look at.

The Drug Enforcement Agency says they file a notice with the lien holders of homes where they find meth labs. That way, if you buy a home, you should find out. If you rent a home, you may have to do your own research.

News 12 did find that several recent meth busts hadn't made the list yet, so it's probably best to wait awhile and check the list again before deciding to move into a home.

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