I-Team: Maine lacks meth lab clean-up, disclosure laws
AUGUSTA (WGME) -- The CBS 13 I-Team discovers Maine law may unknowingly let people live in homes that have been contaminated by former meth labs.
Dark stains coat the carpet and walls inside a Lewiston apartment. Tenants said it's evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing. The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, or MDEA, discovered the secret lab more than a year ago.
"If you've got carpet, if you've got drapes, if you've got any furnishings that are cloth, anything like that, all that stuff has to go," said Bill York, owner of Meth Remediators, a company that cleans up meth labs across New England and the East coast.
The MDEA said it removes items like plastic bottles and chemicals, but there's still contamination left behind.
According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, that can cause health issues like nausea, headaches, confusion and breathing problems.
"I do think there's a lack of awareness and I don't really understand why," said York.
His concern is growing and so is the number of meth labs, which more than doubled in the past year. The MDEA recorded 56 meth-related responses in 2015 and 125 in 2016.
Based on his experience, York believes there are far more out there.
"I mean, conservative estimate in Maine without getting into hotels and motels, is probably between 25 and 40-thousand contaminated properties," York said.
Right now, there's no law in Maine requiring those properties be de-contaminated.
"Known lab sites should mandatorily have to be closed until it's been remediated," suggested York.
About half of states have clean-up standards, including New Hampshire. Statute says a property must be professionally cleaned and inspected by the Department of Environmental Services or a licensed specialist.
The same statute requires disclosure in a real estate sale. The standard form in New Hampshire asks: Do you have knowledge of methamphetamine production ever occurring on the property?
That's not the case in Maine.
"What happens to the next person?" said York. "I mean, theres nothing that says when the MDEA makes a raid and they've conducted their processes, that they're out of sight, you can't put a for sale sign or a for rent sign on that property when the tail lights are out of sight. And that's the scary part."
Maine law requires disclosure of hazardous materials, including but not limited to: asbestos, lead, radon, and underground oil storage tanks.There's no mention of meth, so the CBS 13 I-Team brought the issue to lawmakers at the statehouse.
"It's scary," said Rep. Donna Doore, D-Augusta.
"I think we need to constantly look at what the drug culture is doing to our society and business," said Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden.
Cushing, a realtor, said a meth lab may not necessarily slip through the cracks of a sale.
"This would classify as a hazardous material, so even though the word meth is not in the law, where it is hazardous, it would require some level of disclosure," said Cushing.
When asked whether realtors could get away with not disclosing a meth lab, since it's not named on the hazardous materials list, Cushing said, "It would not be appropriate for somebody who has a real estate license not to disclose material defects. Now, the information has to be known, so you have to be provided that by the owner of a property.
But would an owner be aware, if meth isn't singled out on the disclosure list? Representative Donna Doore, D-Augusta, isn't so sure. She said she'll consider sponsoring a bill to require it.
"We need to look into putting a disclosure out there, so people know if they're buying a meth house," said Doore. Tthey need to know what the dangers are, and I think that's our responsibility as lawmakers is to keep our citizens safe"
York said it would be a step in the right direction.
"I'm very confident that things will change, but when, I don't know," said York.
Until then, properties like the one in Lewiston remain dangerous, but legal.
The DEA does publish a "clandestine lab" registry, where local law enforcement can enter the known address of a meth lab, but it's not required. It currently lists 42 labs in Maine dating back to 2004, but there were more busts than that in 2016 alone.
York said the only way to know for sure whether a home is contaminated is to get it tested, because a lot of times it's not something you can see. There are local companies that can do it, but homeowners can also buy a sampling kit themselves, which costs about $30-60.