Landlords and renters are facing a hidden poisons crisis, with an alarming number of properties testing positive for the drug ice and the deadly chemicals used to make it.
Up to 60 per cent of homes tested in Sydney by one company at the request of owners have recorded positive results, The Saturday Telegraph can reveal.
Dozens of “meth screens” are being ordered every week by worried parents, insurance companies and landlords who face potentially astronomical bills — $100,000 or more — to decontaminate properties that have been rented to drug addicts or criminal tenants.
Fears about chronic health conditions caused by passive meth exposure are fuelling a booming new industry — with at least 10 companies in Sydney now conducting home tests.
One firm, Meth Screen, told the Telegraph it found unacceptable levels of methamphetamine residue in 64 per cent of the homes it has tested in 33 Sydney suburbs since January 2018.
Ice residue was found at homes in Greystanes, Kingswood, Leumeah and Villawood as well as Elizabeth Bay. One home in Port Stephens returned results 1000 times the limit that health officials say is acceptable.
Meth screening involves the swabbing of walls and surfaces, which are then laboratory tested for the drugs ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, amphetamine and meth. Each test costs about $250.
Federal guidelines state that any more than 0.5 micrograms of the drug on an area of 100sq/cm pose a health risk, and some experts argue that that amount can be left behind by heavy meth smoking as well in the manufacturing process. If the test results come back positive, the owner could be up for a fortune to clean up a property that has been contaminated.
Registered nurse Joyce Timtim said she and her partner ordered a meth test from the company IPSM before deciding to buy a home in Blacktown.
“As it was my first house I wanted it to be safe as possible for myself and for my family,” Ms Timtim said.
“It’s not just for health reasons, financially if it tested positive and you had to do a lot of fixing up it would be a financial drain.”
An elderly couple had been living in the home they were thinking of buying, but “it’s not just about them, it’s about somebody before them,” she said. The test was negative and Ms Timtim is waiting for the deal to settle.
Sydney researcher Dr Jackie Wright has spent eight years researching the effects of passive meth exposure in homes, including taking hair samples from some of the 15 households in her research.
“The problems are more significant for children than adults … skin rashes, eye irritation, persistent coughs, trouble sleeping and behavioural changes such as vagueness and lack of concentration,” Dr Wright said.
“There are individuals with genuine health problems from living in meth-contaminated properties … the fact is, (ice) is more prevalent which means more properties are becoming contaminated.”
Meth Screen chief executive Ryan Matthews said landlords, tenants, financial institutions and banks were ordering meth testing of homes coming up for sale and rent.
“It’s all based on suspicion or known contamination. They don’t want to put a property that’s contaminated back on the market,” Mr Matthews.
Police smashed one of the state’s largest labs in a Chipping Norton home last month and crime statistics show use or possession of amphetamines has more than trebled from 1903 in 2009 to 7003 in 2018.
In NSW, local councils have the regulatory responsibility for making sure contaminated buildings are cleaned up by their owners.
In Western Australia, the state government is due to consider making meth residue tests mandatory for rental properties — similar to building pest reports — as part of a review of the Residential Tenancies Act.
The Property Owners Association of NSW is against making the tests mandatory, but wants any known drug history of homes divulged to potential buyers.
“We would support a duty of disclosure, if there was a contamination in the property, from an agent or landlord,” president John Gilmovich said.
Albert Nasralla from All Surface Decontamination said restoring a home could involve completely scrubbing, repainting and refurnishing it.
“I’ve seen couples divorce over the stress and the anxiety, and through no fault of their own,” Mr Nasralla said.
Increasingly, insurance companies are having the tests done before paying out claims on landlords insurance.
Insurance Council of Australia general manager Campbell Fuller said policies never “cover the illegal activities of the insured”.
The scientific community is split on the issue. A report by New Zealand health authorities found almost no chance of suffering health problems from residue in a home where ice had been smoked. Dr Nicole Lee from the National Drug Research Institute agreed, saying the main risk was from the dangerous chemicals used to make methamphetamine.