Local News

Hidden dangers left behind in cleaned up meth houses

SPOKANE, Wash. - It was once the scourge of our community: Meth, manufactured in backyard labs and basements across Spokane County. Law enforcement raided hundreds of labs a year in homes, hotels and apartments across the Inland Northwest. Now, many of those homes are inhabited by other people who may not know of the dangers left behind.

On 8th Avenue, just west of Spokane's Perry District, sits a boarded up white house, back about 20 yards from the street. Passing by, most people would miss it. But, you can't miss the boards on the window and the bright yellow "No Trespassing" sign on the front door. This house has been deemed uninhabitable by the Spokane Regional Health District. But, most former meth homes aren't this obvious.

From the state line to the airport and from Sprague in the Spokane Valley to the far north side, these labs were pervasive, especially around the year 2000.

"They were all over," said Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Craig Chamberlin. "We were processing between three and four labs a day."

Meth houses

Law enforcement agencies dedicated entire units to the growing meth manufacturing problem. Every time they found a lab, they had to suit up from head to toe to protect themselves from the dangerous chemicals.

"The majority of these folks were not only putting themselves and their neighborhood in danger, they also had children inside the house," said Chamberlin. "[It was] completely unacceptable."

In 2000, 137 meth labs were processed in Spokane County. In 2001, that number jumped to 201. And, in 2002, another 189 labs were shut down in homes and garages. Cleaning up the labs was so lucrative, geologist Kipp Silver made a business out of it.

"We started by saying, 'hey, we're going to do meth lab clean-ups,'" said Silver, who owns Able Clean-Up in North Spokane. "There was actually a fair amount of money in it."

Silver and his partners show up at the labs after police leave; it's their job to clean up the mess left behind. He talks about the worst he's ever seen. It was a home in Mead, where people were living in deplorable conditions.

"The places was trashed," Silver recalled. "Absolutely terrible. It looked like there was food that had been in there six months to a year, rotting."

But, it wasn't until they saw a skull and crossbones sign on the bathroom door that they really knew how bad this was.

"We kicked in the door and opened it up and saw the toilet was full. Then, we took a look at the bathtub. It was overflowing with human feces," he said.

It's not exactly a place anyone would want to buy or rent. But, people around Spokane are living in these former meth labs and may not even know it. After finding kxly4 file video of a meth bust in North Spokane from 1999, we paid a visit to the same house last week. The renter said he had no idea about the lab.

State law requires sellers to disclose the information. But, we talked to a homeowner in Otis Orchards who was surprised to find out her home was once a meth lab with excessive contamination in the basement.

"Most of them are people who are buying houses, rental houses or whatever," explained Silver. "Then, the neighbors come over and [tell them] there's been a lot of activity day and night and I think you're buying a meth lab."

So, how in the world do you know for sure? The DEA published a list of former meth lab properties. But, it only lists 29 in Spokane County. It's a far cry from the number actually uncovered by police. The DEA website has a disclaimer, saying "In most cases, the source of the entries is not the Department, and the Department has not verified the entry and does not guarantee its accuracy."

The Spokane Regional Health District also has a list, which contains 321 properties. But, even the health district acknowledges that list is not complete.

"We don't know of all labs," says Paul Savage, environmental health specialist with SRHD. "Only know of the ones the police department did some action at. There may be plenty out there that were labs that no one ever knew about."

So, what can you do? First, ask your neighbors about the home's previous owners. If you have any suspicion, call Paul Savage at the health district to see if there's a record of a meth lab in the home. And, if you really want to know for sure, you can call Able Clean-Up at 466-5255. They will come out and test your home for meth - and, they can do the job if it tests positive.

"We go ahead and pressure wash, scrub the entire house - the inside - with a pressure washer," Silver explained. "Then, we scrub it with simple green and PSP. Pretty simple. We do it three times."

It's expensive and can cost between $2,000 and $20,000, depending on the job. Most property owners cough up the cash in exchange for peace of mind and a clean deed on the home. Some, though, don't bother. They either leave the boards on the doors and windows indefinitely or tear down the house altogether.

Whatever the choice, it's better to know and know your family is safe from the dangers left behind by meth.