Sydney family forced to move after exposure to meth-contaminated property
Article Courtesy TAWAR RAZAGHI JUL 11, 2018
Red, puffy, itchy eyes, difficulty breathing and rashes are all symptoms that could be consistent with allergies and asthma.
But Elle Murphy was shocked to discover her family was suffering from signs of something far more sinister.
After finding a syringe in the garage of their rental near Penrith, Elle and her husband decided to get their house tested for drugs.
Their worst fears were confirmed. The property contained traces of methamphetamine residue at 7½ times the maximum level recommended by national guidelines.
“We were so shocked, we didn’t really know what to do and then it was more worrying about the kids outside and whether there were any more [syringes] around us,” Ms Murphy said.
But she soon found the meth residue lingering in the walls, carpets and curtains proved more damaging to her family’s health than the stray needles.
“Everyone had headaches, we weren’t sleeping normally,” she said.
“Our youngest, who was two at the time, was put on a preventer because he had asthma. Our middle child, who was five, was coming down with rashes and his eyes were reacting and were red, puffy and itchy.”
While both children had asthma to begin with, it went downhill after living in the rental for four months as they “constantly needed preventers and Ventolin”.
They eventually moved out as their real estate agent showed no interest in the problem, putting them thousands of dollars out of pocket to replace contaminated items such as mattresses, linen and some white goods.
Meth Screen chief executive Ryan Matthews tested Ms Murphy’s property and said while suspicion of meth use was driving the current figures he conservatively estimated 10 per cent of all properties in NSW contained meth and ice residue above national guidelines.
“This means at least one house in every street is contaminated and potentially uninhabitable,” Mr Matthews said.
“It’s the unseen side effect and by-product of the ice epidemic.”
Since January, Mr Matthews’ company has screened 71 properties in NSW – from Penrith and Campbelltown to Balmain, Potts Point and Double Bay – with 69 per cent testing positive for meth residue.
He said the number of affected properties was staggering and people did not understand the full extent of the problem.
“People have been smoking and manufacturing for the last 15 to 20 years,” he said. “There’s a lot of historical contamination, the drug residue itself has a half-life of a decade, so you can imagine all these properties that people live in and move around to are continually contaminating it as they move around.”
The Australia Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) runs a National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program and it estimated that more than eight tonnes of methamphetamine a year is consumed in Australia.
A spokesman at the ACIC said that, on average, meth consumption was higher in regional areas than in capital cities.
Mr Matthews has called for tighter regulations that demand property managers and landlords prove a dwelling is free of meth residue.
“It’s unacceptable, just like mould, asbestos and a leaky roof,” he said.
In NSW the Residential Tenancy Act requires landlords to provide a property that is clean, safe and in good repair, but Mr Mathews said it needed to go beyond that.
“The Residential Tenancy Act might need to be a bit more specific,” he said. “They need to make it clearer that a property with meth in it is unacceptable and if you rent or sell on you should be prosecuted or fined.”
Many homes would be contaminated simply by active use over a prolonged period rather than manufacturing, according to Mr Matthews.
He said in some cases children had levels in their system that were the equivalent of a low-level user.
Adjunct lecturer at Flinders University Dr Jackie Wright was involved in developing the ACIC’s contamination guidelines, and said that while there was a system in place to report and remediate properties seized as drug labs by police, there was a gaping hole in dealing with other contaminated properties.
“Any other property that is contaminated by ice we have absolutely have no system in place to clean it up,” Dr Wright said.
“We have nothing for those properties, there’s no legal requirement, no enforcement.”
Dr Wright said in a tight rental market requests reflecting the suspicions of prospective tenants might be ignored.
“Until there is something that says it is a requirement to show it’s clean they [tenants] get fobbed off when they ask,” she said.