BOISE -- Renters and homeowners can take things into their own hands when it comes to finding dangerous meth residue where they live, but if meth is present, things get hard to deal with.
Over the past few months, KTVB has looked at homes where police have busted meth labs. If there's a bust, there are cleanup requirements and a public list of the properties that have not met state cleanup standards.
There are homes that will not be on that list on the list, either because police didn't find the lab, or there was meth use, but no lab. If a home isn't on that list, it's tough for renters or potential buyers to find out the home's drug history.
Renter: 'I was dizzy'
Last year, Helen Leeper moved into a duplex in Boise. Already dealing with the auto-immune disease lupus, Leeper says her health got worse once in the home.
"When I got in there, after the second week, I had hives," renter Helen Leeper said. "My labs started getting weird, and I had shortness of breath, and I was dizzy."
She says her doctor didn't have any answers. Leeper could not figure out what was making her sick. A conversation with a neighbor steered her suspicions toward possible drug contamination.
"I had no idea what was going on. One day I was talking to the neighbors and they said, you know the people that lived in there used to do meth? And the bells went off," Leeper said.
Symptoms of meth chemical exposure
Meridian St. Luke's emergency room Doctor Mark Urban confirms exposure to chemicals found in meth can cause a variety of symptoms. In addition, the elderly, very young, and those with pre-existing conditions can have worse reactions.
"A lot of them are volatile chemicals that when exposed to the skin or inhaled can cause some pretty significant problems," St. Luke's Meridian ER Doctor Mark Urban said. "Some of the chemicals in particular that are used, [such as] the hydrochloric acid as well as anhydrous ammonia, those can cause some pretty significant burns onto the skin and irritation on the skin, as opposed if they are inhaled, pretty significant damage to the lungs, respiratory tract."
A $50 test confirms suspicion
Armed with a new suspicion from her neighbors, Leeper talked to Jim Faust at the Department of Health and Welfare He gave advice he tells many renters who call asking about possible meth contamination. The recommendation is a kit from this Salt Lake City company.
"They can order wipe samples for about $50, that includes that lab analysis. Then they can wipe down some of the walls in their apartment, then put them back in an envelope, send them back to the lab and then they get an entire analysis for meth or any other drugs that they pick," Faust said.
Leeper's results showed there was meth where she lived. Her lab results were explained to show her contamination was at a level 11 times higher than Idaho law would require known meth lab properties to get to, in order to re-occupy. Leeper showed Faust her results, but she got a surprising reaction.
"I about fell on the floor, and he said, yeah 'those results are really high, but there's nothing we can do'," Leeper said.
Idaho law does not require landlord cleanup unless there's a lab bust
Faust says there are no laws on the book to protect renters like Leeper from meth contaminated homes, and there is no cleanup responsibility. The only laws are for homes where police have busted an actual lab.
"For meth use, not a meth lab, there's no state standards on cleanup," Faust said. "There's no responsibility in regards for the landlords for getting that cleaned up. We do hope they would clean it up, they would take it seriously."
Leeper told her landlord about the results she got, and about a month later, found a new place to live. She says her symptoms slowly decreased.
"After I got moved out, it took six weeks for my brain functions to come back and for the hives to clear away," Leeper said.
Landlord cleaned home, had new tests done
KTVB spoke with landlord of the duplex that tested positive for meth. Even though he is not required to do so, he said he spent thousands of dollars doing extensive cleaning and had more tests done that came back clean.
Again, Idaho law actually does not require a landlord to do anything if we're talking meth contamination because of drug use. This landlord said he was shocked at how lax the state's laws are for cleaning up drug residue.
How to test your home
ALS Environmental in Salt Lake City is the company the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recommends people use for a preliminary and relatively inexpensive test. Those interested in a kit can call the company at 1-800-356-9135. They can ship a kit for $5.00 and then the analysis runs $45.00. The results come via email.
To see the instructions that come with the kit to get an idea of how it works, click here.