How did we discover it was contaminated?
Michael and I had viewed the property initially three weeks before moving in and seen that despite a new coat of paint on the walls only twelve months prior and no signs of cracks in the plaster (something quite rare for such an old home) there were extensive score marks on most of the walls in the property. We had returned to view it again a couple of days before moving in. The property was clean and the agent told us that the previous tenant’s mother had attempted to paint over the score marks on the walls, whilst not the exact match colour wise it was close. Although the unit was clean the garage was full of what looked like rubbish. We were told that no one knew who it belonged to and the story given to the agent by the previous tenant was that the goods in the garage belonged to a friend of hers.
On the morning we moved in Michael called at the unit and found that the score marks on the walls, initially painted over by the previous tenant, had now been covered up using enamel paint which was definitely not the right colour and made the whole thing look far worse than it had been, a strange thing to do we thought but at that time did not give it any further attention.
A week after moving in I answered a knock on the door. To my horror I saw a well known local drug dealer standing there. She informed me that it was her goods in the garage. Even when we found out that the previous tenant’s ‘friend’ was a local drug dealer we still didn’t question the enamel paint on the walls or consider contamination of the property.
The move had been very stressful and I was exhausted and was suffering from my usual symptoms of swollen joints, aching muscles and chronic fatigue. I was certainly looking forward to relaxing and recuperating once we had moved in. This was not to be the case. We set to cleaning and unpacking. Michael vacuumed the whole house, carpets, window frames, blinds etc. and within days I was feeling like I had a bad dose of the flu. My throat was on fire, my eyes sore and itchy, my sinuses blocked and my head pounding. I was having difficulty sleeping for more than a couple of hours and was waking at 2am, covered in sweat and then lay awake most nights staring at the ceiling, tossing around unable to sleep. When I did sleep I had nightmares, something I hadn’t had for years. Each day I got worse, I became anxious and irritable. I stayed inside because of COVID and the advice to isolate if you have a sore throat or cough. I just got worse and worse, especially at night when we had closed the doors and windows. At first I blamed the cigarette smoke that wafted in from the unit next door but when Michael also began to develop a sore throat, asthmatic cough, irritated eyelids and strange symptoms such as muscle aches in his hands and a disturbing pain in his feet, I began to realise something in the house was making us sick.
Events, things people had told us about a previous tenant’s behaviour prior to the renovation over twelve months before we moved in and the fact that we had discovered that the goods in the garage had belonged to a known drug dealer in town all began to make us highly suspicious. We searched the internet for information on Methamphetamine use and found numerous papers of the effects of third hand exposure from previous use of a property by a Meth addict that detailed the same symptoms we had. We also discovered that enamel paint is often used to encapsulate meth residue on surfaces and this made us very suspicious of the enamel paint on the score marks on the walls. Then we came across the Australian Meth Inspectors (AMI) website and ordered their DIY indicative test kits. These kits arrived on Christmas Eve. Not wanting to destroy our whole Christmas celebrations we waited until Boxing Day to do the testing.
AMI had a video explaining how to conduct the DIY testing. We followed to the letter the advice given by the video and by Kevin of AMI. We knew enough now to know that these test kits would only show a positive result if the levels were above the guidelines of .5µ/100cm2. Therefore a negative result did not mean the meth residue was not there. We also knew enough to know that meth residue is found at different levels in different parts of a room and that again a negative in a room does not mean it’s not there. (If you are following this blog and looking to test your own home please understand a DIY test only proves it is there above the . 5µ/100 cm2 and any suspicions really do need to be followed up with a full forensic test). This fact was borne out for us when further forensic testing was done using laboratory analysis of samples taken in other areas of the rooms we had tested and these forensic tests returned results of levels much higher than we had recorded and in some cases lower than we had recorded, however all of these levels were higher than the ‘safe’ levels other overseas jurisdictions have.
To undertake the testing we purchased Nitrile gloves (you can’t use latex). These were needed to prevent cross contamination of the samples taken. A new pair of gloves were used for each test and we made sure we removed them correctly. We selected areas that we thought might have residue on them. I was wary of the freshly painted walls after our research had uncovered the fact that paint, especially enamel paint, can be used to encapsulate the residue on walls and other timber surfaces. We looked at each room pondering where the user might have been whilst smoking meth. Were they in bed? Were they near a window? We also concentrated on the location of the exhaust fans in a room as these are often used by users to clear the air. Air conditioners also can have heavy concentrations as they pull air out of the room so testing the walls near the air conditioner vents is also a good indicator. We tested higher up on the walls as close to the ceiling as we could because the lower areas of the walls had been washed by the previous tenant on leaving. We concluded that any residue would be in areas not recently cleaned. Whilst we were correct in our assumptions of where to test it was still quite a shock to discover positive results in the kitchen on a surface that had not been repainted and also high on the wall near a window in the bedroom where we slept.
This was the start of a very steep and at times traumatic and discouraging learning curve. Finding help and advice was really hard and it is one of the reasons we are speaking up now and telling our story in the hope that other people won’t have to tread quite the same path as we did but can take a short cut to obtaining good, clear and concise advice.
Yvonne Lacey OAM
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