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It looks like an ordinary home. In the driveway next-door, a shiny four-wheel drive, loaded with two pre-school children, rolls out onto the bitumen.

First impressions, though, can be deceiving. The toxic impact of methamphetamine residue can create serious health concerns – as well as huge financial costs involved in the required clean-up. Today, a drug residue detection specialist from Rapid Building Inspections is about to explore whether any of the previous occupants of this ‘ordinary’ home that is now on the market have left behind any toxic chemical contaminants – and the potential to create serious health risks for the next residents.Inside the spacious open-plan kitchen, Farrukh Sair, the qualified inspector from Rapid Building Inspections, lays his equipment on the bench. Some thorough paperwork to complete, a pen, an iPad to photograph and document the process, and, importantly, the specialised testing equipment he’s about to use to swab for possible remnants of illegal drug activity.

The real estate agent stands patiently nearby. There’s been an offer made on the house, the agent tells Farrukh, but they’ve added a clause to do with meth testing. If the test comes back with any signs of residue of methamphetamine – whether left behind from anyone creating the drug in a home-made lab set-up, or even as drug-users who might have smoked the dangerous chemical somewhere in this house – the deal will be off.

Clauses like this are becoming increasingly common, these days, as prospective buyers keen to protect their financial investment and health take sensible steps to give themselves peace of mind, and a clean, safe space for family living.

The risk for hidden potential danger

Meth is an invisible contaminant with no real odour. But, because the impact of it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to remediate (clean and repair), it’s becoming a very real issue for people buying or renting property.

Heavy meth use typically accounts for most discovered contamination issues, as well as meth labs that have been springing up in rental properties across Australia, in recent years. In Adelaide alone, forty-two labs were found by police during the 2020-2021 financial year. Recent statistics show that Australia has the highest number of meth users per capita in the English-speaking world.

The impact of meth contamination

Although news reports often highlight the dramatic effect of meth labs – including explosions, fire damage and other disrepair caused by makeshift remodelling of rooms to accommodate drug manufacturing processes – the impact of people simply smoking meth inside a property is also dangerous. Regular smoking of the drug often returns meth contamination readings almost as high as those produced by a meth lab.

The legal issues around meth contamination

As a property buyer, undertaking due diligence when it comes to building & pest inspection reports to ensure the property is safe and structurally sound for you and your family to be housed in, is always recommended. With many property purchases completed by investors keen to rent their property to tenants, detecting meth residue is becoming increasingly important to buyers who are keen to protect their investment – and their legal responsibility.

According to Australian laws (EPA and local government), meth contamination above 0.5 micrograms in a space 100cm square (0.5μg/100cm²) is not acceptable.
For property investors, the risk of landlords facing lawsuits from tenants who unwittingly move into an already-contaminated property is real – and can be costly. Adjoining neighbours who believe their own property value may have been compromised may also seek legal advice.

And for buyers simply trying to create a safe home for their own families, the health consequences can be devastating.

The cost of cleaning up meth contamination

Meth decontamination can require major refurbishments. With meth residue seeping into any porous surface, cleaning up after meth residue is revealed can mean replacing carpets, curtains and blinds, wall linings, restoration of electrical wiring, cleaning or replacement of ducted heating vents, air-conditioners and insulation.
Although insurance cover is available, it comes with a cover limit and can also require an expensive excess payment.

Meth testing in action

Farrukh Sair starts in the kitchen. The equipment he uses is not unfamiliar – like the COVID-related rapid antigen tests so many Australians have had to make part of their everyday lives recently.

Farrukh wears disposable gloves and paces the kitchen carefully, reaching into high airflow areas such as ledges above the stove, the fridge, and the doorways with a swab he carefully wipes across each hard surface he tests. Lower down, he scrapes it along the underside of cupboard doors and other nooks and crannies, he explains, that may have missed whatever cleaning has taken place here.

In this case, the kitchen is sparkling – along with the rest of the immaculately presented family home – but, with around 16 per cent of tests done by Rapid Building Inspections in the last financial year returning a positive result, it’s clear that looks can sometimes be deceiving. Whether this looks like a potential drug house or not, the reality is that the prospective buyer’s specific request for a negative drug residue report is a critical factor in the successful sale.

In the next rooms, Farrukh reaches above wardrobes, along heating vents, behind tapware and on top of light fittings and curtain pelmets. He repeats the process in the bedrooms, laundry, bathrooms, and other living areas – each time with new swabs that he places in their own unique labelled bags that detail the rooms tested.
Back in the kitchen, with the swabbing complete, it’s time for the results. Farrukh dips the swab into a small phial of buffer solution. In this case, a liquid that responds to changes in pH caused by the introduction of other specific chemicals related to methamphetamine detection.

Farrukh uses the eyedropper-style lid to carefully drip a few droplets onto the testing area of the test that is laid out on a clean piece of paper on the kitchen bench. After the drops fall, Farrukh counts to 10.

He repeats the process twice more, pausing each time to count. When the test shows a negative result – and in the case of meth testing, that means that no potentially harmful chemical residue has been detected – Farrukh repeats the steps again with another test, using a swab from a different area of the house.
For the potential buyer, the news here is good. The Rapid Building Inspections’ testing has revealed that the house is as clean as it appears – with no trace of toxic methamphetamine showing up on any of the tests.

Farrukh takes a few more minutes to carefully document the findings, by filling in forms that detail each key area of the home, accompanied by a photo of the documentation and a photo of each negative test result, before the next part of his job here – a building and pest inspection report – is undertaken.

Farrukh has another meth test to do a couple of days from now and for other members of the Rapid team across Australia, the number of meth testing bookings are growing, as more potential buyers recognise the importance of due diligence.

Meth testing can save you money – and prevent serious illness

Health issues directly related to meth residue can include:

* Respiratory problems
* Headaches
* Behaviour problems in young children
* Disrupted sleep patterns
* Irritation to skin and eyes

As a potential homebuyer, making the need for negative results of a meth test a clause in the contract of sale gives you added protection that can help avoid the health risks of moving into a contaminated property – as well as the financial cost of repairing associated damage.

To find out more about booking a meth test with Rapid Building Inspections, contact our team.