Report Highlights Lack of Lab Cleanup Standards

Posted by Nathan Lamb

A lack of regulations for homes formerly used as clandestine drug labs could be putting renters and home buyers at risk in some states, according to this special report from the Press & Sun-Bulletin.

At issue are residential methamphetamine labs, which produce roughly five pounds of toxic waste for every pound of meth, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) counts 53 chemicals—some quite toxic—associated with meth production. The EPA published guidelines for removing residential contamination from homes used as clandestine labs in 2007, but a lack of federal laws governing cleanup means that specific requirements vary from state to state.

A total of 23 states currently require disclosure of a building’s meth lab history to potential renters or buyers. Similarly, 25 states have established guidelines or requirements on the level of cleanup required at former lab houses.

The state of West Virginia has specific cleanup targets, which are the responsibility of the property owner.

At the other end of the spectrum are New York and Pennsylvania, which have no specific regulations about former meth labs. Neither state requires disclosure of a former lab’s illicit history to potential renters or buyers, and the level of post-lab remediation is left at the property owner’s discretion.

State Senators from both New York and Pennsylvania have sponsored legislation that would establish cleanup standards and require the disclosure, but those proposals have not gotten past committee deliberations.

According to the EPA guidelines, meth production can cause residual contamination that can permeate carpets, furniture, walls and woodwork of buildings used as residential labs. Toxic chemicals commonly associated with meth production include lithium and lye, along with solvents like benzene and acetone.

Law enforcement officials said testing is the only way to determine which chemicals are present at a given lab site.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has an online registry of known labs and dumping sites, but cautions that in most cases the information is provided by local law enforcement.