Make sure that dream home you're about to buy on the Treasure Coast isn't a former meth lab

Former meth lab homes in the TC - The dream home you're about to buy may have more than three bedrooms, two baths, a fully equipped kitchen and a white picket fence.

It may have the residue from its history as a methamphetamine lab.

Sure, the meth may be tossed out or flushed, the cops may have hauled away any lab material as evidence and the homeowner may have cleaned up the place; but chemicals including iodine, lithium and poisonous solvents are still around, having seeped into walls, ceilings, floors and carpets. For each pound of meth that's cooked, 5 to 6 pounds of waste, much of it toxic, is created as byproduct.

According to the journal Scientific American, people living in former meth-producing houses have experienced short-term health problems ranging from migraines and respiratory difficulties to skin irritation and burns.

A 2009 study in Toxicological Sciences suggests long-term exposure to methamphetamine chemicals may cause cancer in humans. Children are particularly susceptible because of their developing bodies and tendency to play on the ground and put things in their mouths.

"Making meth is all about chemical reactions, six or seven chemical reactions to make one batch," said Joe Mazzuca, operations manager of Meth Lab Cleanup, an Idaho-based company specializing in decontaminating clandestine drug labs and marijuana grow houses nationwide. "And each chemical reaction leaves residue."

Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in some decongestants, is the primary ingredient in meth. Dozens of other chemicals, including acetone, the active ingredient in nail polish remover; lithium, thin strips of which are pulled out of batteries; and phosphine, a widely used insecticide, are used in processing the drug.

Mazzucca said his company does 1,500 to 2,000 decontaminations a year, 98 percent of them for meth labs.

The firm has three jobs pending in St. Lucie County: two meth labs and one marijuana grow house.

Mazzuca said the cost of decontaminating a typical meth house in Florida ranges from $5,000 to $10,000.

"There's a huge misconception, especially in the South," Mazzuca said, "that a meth house is 'cleaned up' when the cops are finished with it. All the cops do is haul away the chemicals and the lab equipment. They may call that cleaning up, but it sure isn't decontaminating, which is what we do."

Mazzuca said his decontaminations remove carpets, blinds, curtains and furnishing. Then, using a special detergent, they decontaminate what remains.

But there's no guarantee a company like Mazzuca's has decontaminated the house you love with the "For Sale" sign out front.

"Because there's no disclosure laws and no requirements to decontaminate a meth house," Mazzuca said, "There's no requirement for the owner of the house to do anything."

Unlike 23 other states, Florida has no law requiring that houses formerly used as meth labs be decontaminated, said David Koerner, director of environmental health at the St. Lucie County Health Department.

Nor does the state have a law requiring a homebuyer be notified the house they're about to invest in is a former meth lab, said Rick Crary, partner at the Crary Buchanan law firm in Stuart.

Crary said there is, however, case law precedent that a buyer has a right to sue if the seller knows about, but fails to disclose "any latent defect" in a house that would diminish its value, but that a buyer can't easily see. Termite damage and mold are typical examples.

"I've never been asked about it in terms of meth labs," Crary said. "And, of course, the buyer would have to prove that the defect constitutes a health hazard. Whether they prevail or not would depend on the facts. I also think the seller might want to make the disclosure just to be cautious and to keep from getting sued."

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