Unwittingly buying or renting out a house contaminated with methamphetamine can cause heartache for all involved – but Oamaru woman Jacqui Brunton hopes to be of service.
In May, she completed her training as a methamphetamine contamination tester, and has now started her own business, NO Meth.
Mrs Brunton said her job description was exactly what the title said.
“Basically, my job involves testing homes for meth contamination, for anyone out there that may be concerned their ex-tenants may have been a bit suspicious, or for pre-home sale inspections.”
She said part of the reason she decided to train in the field was to get the message out that methamphetamine production and use was not just an issue in specific parts of the country.
“It’s in our community and it’s a real issue. I think a misconception is it’s just a North Island problem because they [the media] seem to focus so much on the Auckland area when they report on the problem. But, it’s a national problem now.”
Although testing for methamphetamine use has become more common recently, National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep, of Dunedin, has questioned the approach, saying houses where methamphetamine has been smoked but not produced posed “minimal risk of toxicity”, the Otago Daily Times reported earlier this year.
Mrs Brunton likened the test she carried out, in full protective gear, to a “pregnancy test”.
The test involved a simple positive/negative test using a basic testing kit on a surface, such as a wall, which involved a swab being dipped into a liquid solution, scraped on the wall and dripped on to a tester.
That could then be sent away for further tests.
“The second test is a swab test that is sent to a lab to test. If the positive/negative test does come back positive, you have to run a lab test to get numbers, then you’ll have a better understanding of contamination and what to do next to decontaminate.”
If a property tests positive, there are several options available to address the issue.
“There is a company here in Oamaru that knows how to decontaminate properties. It depends on levels and what the property owner wants to do. You can pay a cleaning company to wash the walls down but you have to get rid of the carpets and curtains. There’s no way to decontaminate those.”
A special solution is used to clean affected surfaces, but Mrs Brunton said that task may have to be repeated “up to five times” before being given the all-clear.
In extreme cases, a property may be demolished altogether.
“There’s an option to bulldoze the property down, but we wouldn’t recommend that unless a P lab had exploded and done major damage to a property.”
Mrs Brunton charges $260 for an initial test.
The cost of a lab test was significantly higher, and she said the decontamination process could run into the “tens of thousands” of dollars.
She said owners of properties affected by contamination had many factors, such as price, insurance, time and feasibility, to consider.
“It’s a genuine and real concern for property owners now.
“There are people out there who would like to see testing compulsory. I think it’s definitely required in certain places. I’m not sure if the amount of meth that might be used in Oamaru would call for it … there would have to be a happy medium somewhere.”