5a – The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly
Methamphetamine testing and remediation is currently an unregulated industry. As such it can be very difficult to ascertain who you can and cannot trust when it comes to advice, quotes, performance of undertaking the requested task etc. etc. In just four months we had experienced the best and the worst of some of those involved. In addition to this our research has also uncovered some very unscrupulous behaviour masked as being legitimate and covered by the pretence of being affiliated with a national organisation. In this series of articles we hope to bring you, by documenting our journey from suspicion through testing to remediation, some of what we have discovered and the ways in which we have been able to ascertain who we can trust and who we need to be very wary of.
When Mike and I first suspected something was not right with the unit we had moved into in November 2020 we decided to do some research into methamphetamine use and contamination of homes. At first we wondered if this unit had been a Clan Lab. The behaviour of the previous two tenants was suspicious of meth use and this place had been extensively renovated with new kitchen cabinets, vinyl flooring in the kitchen and a very impressive paint job on the walls after the first of these tenants had left. Our research revealed that this type of renovation can often indicate that following discovery of meth use or manufacture in a property the owners have sought to cover up the situation. By owners I do not just mean private investors but also government agencies who administer social housing. Our research indicated that meth contamination could be causing our symptoms and to our amazement we discovered that it wasn’t just Clan Labs that contaminated abuilding but also use of the drug, known as ‘smoke houses’. This meant that it didn’t matter if it was a Clan Lab or not, because if meth has been used in the building at any time then the building will be contaminated.
Further research led us to investigating how one found out if there was contamination without it costing thousands of dollars to do so. We didn’t exactly have much in the bank for this type of scenario. We discovered a number of websites offering tests with a variety of names from ‘rapid results’ to ‘indicative’. After extensive research we chose Australian Meth Inspectors DIY kit initially based on the information provided on their website which was very comprehensive. Their service was quick and professional. We followed their instructions and when positive results were found indicating that meth was present in the building we realised we needed additional professional support for this before fronting up to the agent’s office, after all we were not professionals so why should they believe us especially when the consequences would result in major expense to the landlord and problems for them for not being diligent enough and undertaking their duty of care to the landlord and to the tenants?
The premises had been repainted following the departure of tenant 1. When tenant 2 left, the walls had been thoroughly cleaned by that tenant up to a height that could be reached without a ladder (the ceilings were 12 foot). Our tests had revealed negative results on recently painted and cleaned walls but positive results on wall surfaces that had not received a fresh coat of paint and/or were too high to reach without a ladder. Looking on the internet we found a local building inspector who offered testing for meth. Unknowingly we thought this was a more extensive testing of the building than we had done and that this would give us more of an idea as to where and how much meth was present. Sadly we were wrong because all that most building inspector testers do is the same six tests using the same kits as we had, one test per room.
These indicative test kits only show a positive result if the contamination is above the standard of .5micrograms per 100cm2 (.5µ per 100cm2 ). Therefore a negative result does not mean there is no contamination it just means if it is there it is below .5 µ per 100cm2 and a positive result only indicates it is above .5 µ per 100cm2 but does not give an indication as to how high above .5 µ per 100cm2 the level actually is. In many ways this testing by the building inspector gave no further information than we already had because whilst this person was prompt in attending, he used the same kits as we had used and tested the same areas we tested. He admitted to being self-taught. He was initially finding negative results, as we had, because he was testing at arm height on recently painted surfaces and I was stunned that despite me telling him there had been a partial renovation and the walls were freshly painted he still continued to use precious tests on areas that we knew were giving low readings and it was only when we insisted he test an area that had not been recently painted that he got a result that led him to believe meth was present in the home. However this was only one weak reading out of six. This report from him could have been very damning for us because had he only tested where he thought he should test, the report would have said the place was free of contamination when in reality it was dripping with it.
We later discovered that often self-taught testers are unaware of the need to understand airflow in a room and also the habits of users so that the appropriate areas of a room are tested. Accurate testing is quite a science and the untrained tester can produce a result that is totally inaccurate. Some have been known to swab areas larger than the 100cm2 recommended so as to obtain higher readings and persuade people to undertake more expensive forensic testing and unnecessary remediation.
Beware of self-taught, inexperienced meth testers. Price is often indicative as to quality. So the cheaper it is the more caution there should be. It can be more costly in the long run to have an incorrect report from an untrained person testing your premises.
Our lesson – before hiring someone to come and test for you ask them what they know about meth contamination, how it’s detected and their process for testing and what sort of training they have received. Also check out their website and reviews. Contact a number of testers for quotes and information so that an accurate comparison can be made. Inform yourself as to what to test and where to look before paying someone to test the wrong areas.
As weak as the building inspectors report was we still felt positive that something was not quite right. We again contacted Australian Meth Inspectors and AMI advised that we needed a full forensic test undertaken and they didn’t have anyone in our area at the time but also advised it was the owners responsibility now not ours and we should not have to bear the cost of this testing.
We advised the property manager of our concerns and lodged the required forms requesting a forensic test and remediation of the property and our possessions.
The sad part about this is that all testers only do six tests, whether they are indicative tests or forensic tests. Indicative tests do not require a laboratory report so are much cheaper but as stated previously they do not give the exact levels of contamination only that it might be present. As outlined above a negative test result does NOT mean meth is not present it just means it is at a level below .5µper 100cm2 in that particular area where the test was taken. This process of only doing six tests is partly due to cost but six tests is insufficient to enable anyone to really locate where the meth is if it is therein the home. Whilst most will tell you that even one positive test is enough it has been our experience that a room can give a negative result (meaning the level is below .5µ per 100cm2 from testing on one side of the room but have a sky high 9.7 reading on the other side of the room. This was the case for us in the bedroom. The building inspector obtained a negative result in the room that had the highest readings in the whole house. Why? Because he tested a freshly painted and washed wall whereas the forensic tester tested the window frame, unpainted and unwashed.
The forensic testing we requested was undertaken by a qualified hygienist who told us he knew what to look for and where to find it. He explained airflow and users habits such as where they liked to smoke meth and where they liked to make meth etc. His report came back demonstrating high levels of contamination in the bedroom with lower levels elsewhere. However he again also tested newly painted walls in some rooms where the results were quite low. The areas that had not been newly painted tested high indicating that some remediation had taken place when the property was renovated in the months between the two previous tenants of the property. Further testing of the premises by a university team of scientists would prove that in a room where the hygienist had a reading of less than .05µper 100cm2 there was actually a reading of 7.4µper 100cm2 on a door (unpainted).
His report wasn’t strong either and let us down when it came to explaining what needed to be done with our possessions. It appeared to be a report written for an insurance company and as such limited itself to discussing remediation of the property but not so much what had to be done to our possessions.
Beware that a forensic report may be written to the benefit of the person paying for the report so if you need an accurate report to assist you in any claim for compensation you may have to pay for it yourself. Also beware that some indicative and forensic testers are linked to remediation companies and as such the report may not be accurate.
This link between testers and remediation companies was brought home to us not only by our experience but also the experience of someone who wishes to remain anonymous but is ok for me to tell their story because it is one that many of you may relate to, we will disclose this story in an upcoming blog on remediators.
Our lesson – work out what you are about to lose if you don’t have an accurate report and be willing to pay the cost to get one.
For us the cost of not having an accurate report was going to be in excess of $46,000 in damaged and contaminated goods and a further $12,000 to dispose of them. PLUS extra to have additional testing done to prove that our goods were also contaminated.
Yes you read that correctly. Even though we had positive proof that he building was contaminated. Even though leading scientists both here and overseas agreed that from their testing and years of research any goods located within a building that was contaminated, were also contaminated we were told that we had not proven ‘our goods’ were contaminated. This led to us having to pay another $2,500 to have a few items tested and that amount again after any cleaning of those items was undertaken to prove they were clean.
Here again we met with a tester who tested strange areas. E.g. a fridge is notorious for attracting contamination in dust into its motor. Instead of testing the motor, this tester tested the top of the fridge that had been cleaned. His results were confusing to the layperson and gave the impression that our fridge was not contaminated when in actual fact testing of the motor proved it was contaminated. In our case this very expensive report was not all that useful either.
The total cost to us of a poorly worded report was a mind boggling $63,000 and because of the lack of protections from government agencies that should be protecting people (more on this in another blog) we were hardly likely to be compensated for any of that.
Despite the issues we had I think we actually were quite lucky when we found AMI and the contacts AMI led us to. Their advice and assistance was invaluable and enabled us to almost steer clear of the cowboys in this industry. I say almost because we did fall foul of a very nasty example of the worst kind, but that is for another blog. There are however too many people who have been conned by inexperienced or unscrupulous testers employed by cleaning companies who provide false reports, do not carry out adequate cleaning and then give false clearance reports post remediation. These are the Ugly side of the industry and the only way this can be dealt with is through Governments stepping up to the mark and regulating the industry.
In summary what did we learn?
Sadly at the moment people are at the mercy of an unregulated system and governments that are failing to take responsibility for doing anything about this fact other than try to avoid the issue altogether. In Australia WA are the only state that are putting regulations in place but sadly these are also insufficient and concentrate on clan labs rather than including smoke houses in the equation. They at least do have some form of registration of testers and cleaning companies so that some confidence can be found by employing them, Other states are very much behind the eight ball on all this and as a result are more interested in finding a way to accept a New Zealand report that has been extensively discredited but favours higher levels of contamination than accept their own Australian researchers findings and the actual results people are experiencing. In addition without regulations, registration and adequate training it is nearly impossible to determine who you can and cannot trust.
The best advice we can give is that you undertake as much research as possible. Arm yourself with information and ask numerous questions before you choose to employ any company to undertake testing for you. Do not just believe the marketing or the hype that some companies will deliver to you. If you feel confident enough use DIY kits yourself first so that you are aware of where the contamination might be in the property.
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