My Home Was a Former Meth Lab


Do you live near a meth lab? Click on the map above to see which counties have the largest number of contaminated sites.

By Les Christie

Call it crystal, crank or ice -- you don't want to live in a house where methamphetamine was cooked up. Many Americans, however, unwittingly purchase homes or rent apartments contaminated with the drug's poisonous residue. There have been nearly 84,000 meth lab seizures since 2004, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. But only a fraction of meth labs -- as few as 5 percent -- get discovered by authorities, according to Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.

"Millions of people live in properties that were used as meth labs," said Joseph Mazzuca, who co-founded Meth Lab Cleanup in Athol, Idaho, with his wife, Julie. Last year, his company booked more than 1,500 jobs inspecting and decontaminating homes. Jonathan Hankins, 32, thought that he and his wife, Beth, got a terrific deal last June on a starter home in Klamath Falls, Ore. They paid just $36,000 for a two-bedroom fixer-upper that had been repossessed in a foreclosure.

More from CNNMoney: Do You Live Near a Meth Lab?

"We only lived there three weeks," said Hankins. "We started to experience symptoms." They got dry mouth, headaches and nosebleeds. Their 2-year-old son, Ezra, got mouth sores so severe that he couldn't drink. After neighbors told Hankins that the house had been a meth lab, he bought a test kit for $50. It showed meth residue at about 80 times the state's legal limit for acceptable levels of meth residue in a home after it has been cleaned.

The family moved out, and the health problems cleared up after a few weeks. But their financial problems persisted. The couple is still paying the mortgage on the house and rent on a new one, and they lost furniture and other belongings that became contaminated.

More from CNNMoney: How to Spot a Meth Lab

Hankins' lawyer told him to walk away from the mortgage, but he doesn't want to ruin his credit. Even if they pay to clean up the house, it would be difficult to recoup any money by selling it. Straightforward decontamination jobs can cost $5,000 to $10,000, according to Mazzuca. Surfaces must be rinsed with special detergents, rooms stripped of carpeting and other materials and meth residue must be sucked off of walls and other hidden surfaces.

Hankins is petitioning mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which sold him his home, to test all homes it sells for meth contamination, and he is speaking with the company about covering his costs. A Freddie spokesman, Brad German, said the company did not know the Hankins' home was contaminated. He said Freddie relies on local real estate agents to follow all state disclosure laws. "We encourage buyers to do any test they want," said German. "Hankins didn't test and bought the house as-is."

Read the rest of this story on CNNMoney.

See more on CNNMoney: Inside a Meth Lab Cleanup

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Fleeing Passenger Leads Cops to Basement Meth Lab
Fleeing Passenger Leads Cops to Basement Meth Lab