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Montana News

Oct 26, 2012 11:04 AM by Angela Douglas - MTN News

What it takes to decontaminate a meth house

BILLINGS - There are more than 200 methamphetamine contaminated properties in the state of Montana,and 25 of those are within the city of Billings, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The DEQ list of contaminated houses in Billings includes properties that were busted back in 1999 and have yet to be cleaned. That means, for the past 13 years the property has either sat vacant or people have been living in the meth contaminated house.

"In the state of Montana, it's totally legal to rent out a methamphetamine contaminated property as long as you disclose to the current renters that this property was involved in a methamphetamine bust," said Big Sky Exterior Designs co-owner Rob Morehead.

A meth-lab cleanup can cost tens of thousands of dollars, which prevents many homeowners from forking over the cash to decontaminate the property. However, the value of the property drops significantly until it's cleaned-up. So when it's time to sell, that's usually when Big Sky Exterior Designs enters the picture.

"Methamphetamine is almost like a clear smoke and anywhere there's air, there can be meth," Morehead stated as he walked through a local residence on his list of properties to decontaminate

Back in 2003, a resident at 7 Jackson Street was busted by local law enforcement for cooking methamphetamine. That unit was proved to be contaminated with methamphetamine and placed on the state's list.

However, that property also shares a wall with another unit, which may also be contaminated, according to Morehead. Now, nine years later the properties are under new ownership and are getting cleaned up. It's a process that is not only intense, but also thorough.

"All of the kitchen cabinets would go, the appliances go, all the carpet goes, all the light fixtures go, all the light switches and outlet covers go," Morehead said. "If there's any exposed wood whatsoever, like on these cabinets, it's just not worth cleaning."

After everything has been removed that needs to be, the wash procedure begins.

"Literally, you bring pressure washers inside this unit and you're literally spraying down the walls as you're sucking it up," said Morehead.

Once the property has been cleaned, a third party will come in and test the meth-levels.

"If it's clean, at that point it can be removed from the state list,"explained Morehead.

At that point, the property is off the books and no future buyer will ever know what took place behind closed doors.

Seven Jackson Street was busted years ago and is one of the last traditional meth labs to be busted by local law enforcement.

"We see very few of those where they're in the house cooking and have all the materials set up," explained Billings Police Lieutenant Kevin Iffland. "So that is definitely on the decline, we haven't seen one in several years around the Billings area."

Despite the fact that few new methamphetamine labs are popping up, the old ones remain contaminated. Although only 25 Billings properties are the list, Morehead says there's likely many more.

"If a state or local or federal agency did not make a bust on that property, it's never going to be on that list," Morehead said.

When asked how many contaminated house he thinks are in Billings, he said to take the list and multiply for four, maybe even 10.

"I mean, that number is pretty big probably," he said.

A big number and according to Morehead, any neighborhood can fall victim.

"They're everywhere," Morehead said. "They really are. I mean, you'll see them in a trailer house and you'll see them in a $300,000 to $400,000 property."

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