The general public has been inundated with emotive information about the harmful effects of meth. Some meth testing and cleaning companies have been aggressively stating what the potential adverse effects may be, but these are not referenced to scientific studies.
The following is a headline statement from a testing company’s website:
We work hard so you can live your life without fear your physical, emotional and financial health and wellbeing will be destroyed by a meth affected property
They then go on to state all the potential negative effects that may occur from meth, including nausea, burning skin, coughing or choking, cancer and death.
They confirm that Ministry of Health Guidelines recommend a level of 0.5 micrograms of residual meth per 100cm2 and acknowledge that this is a conservative level. However they then discount this information by saying that "it is unclear what can be considered a truly ‘safe’ level of meth residues in a property. Indeed, given the history of ‘safe’ levels of chemical contaminants being revised over time, it is understandable why uncertainty remains for many".
In the instance of any other official guideline, the meth testing and cleaning industry has latched onto the MOH recommendation and assumed that any reading greater than 0.5 micrograms per 100cm2 means the property is contaminated.
The word "contamination" is highly emotive, and while companies state they want people to live without physical, emotional and financial fear, the language they use and the unscientific assumptions they make actually inflicts this fear on people.
Scientists that the NZPIF has spoken to have confirmed that the affects of residual meth in properties has been overhyped.
What is the extent of the problem?
There are two aspects to the meth situation; producing or cooking in a property and smoking in a property. Manufacturing causes traces that can be over 1,000 times higher than smoking. There are additional chemicals that are produced when cooking that are not part of smoking.
Scientists believe that there is a real difference between problems caused by smoking meth in a property and cooking it in a property.
The extremely high levels and additional substances created means that the effects on a property, and of living in a property where meth has been produced, can cause adverse health effects. However smoking in a property does not produce the same adverse health effects.
Given the overhyped information presented to the general public, people have been led to believe that almost any level of meth in a property means it is contaminated and cannot be lived in. This is unlikely given the wide potential level of meth that may be in a property and the absence of any studies into the actual adverse health effects of exposure to different levels of meth.
Fixing a property where meth traces are found
There are no standards for meth testing or cleaning in New Zealand, and there is little information about what needs to be done to clean a property after it has been smoked in.
Many companies are taking the view that if meth is found in a property above 0.5 micrograms per 100cm2, then the furniture, carpet, wall linings appliances and other items need to be removed and dumped. Without any scientific basis, these companies have taken the MOH guidelines as a level above which a property is unsafe to live in. Some would say that they are deliberately using the MOH guidelines to cause fear and make profits. However the NZPIF has spoken to people involved in cleaning up meth affected properties and they genuinely believe that any level over the MOH guidelines means the property is uninhabitable.
The cost of introductory tests for traces of meth range from $200 to $800 to many thousands. The costs to clean a property range from $5,000 to $85,000 and in some cases houses have been demolished.
The cost on the rental property industry is not known. However Housing NZ has spent $6m in the seven months to January testing for meth and cleaning when traces have been found. Annualised, this is over $10m per year, up from $700,000 in 2013. This cost is continuing to grow at the same rate.
A Tenancy Tribunal Adjudicator ruled that any level of meth in a property means that the landlord has not provided the property in a reasonably clean condition and this is an unlawful act that can see the landlord pay a fine of up to $3,000.
In another case the Tribunal awarded half the rent to be paid back to the tenant.
The documented experience of Housing NZ has seen media reports on the costs associated with meth. Also there have been reports on how the supply of rental properties is being affected as a result of houses being uninhabitable.
Not all insurance products cover costs to restore the property. However the NZPIF recommended product from Initio does provide complete cover. (Go to the home page at www.nzpif.org.nz and select the "save on Insurance" option).
Dr Nick Kim of Massey University has recently received a considerable level of media attention following a study he completed into residual meth in properties from smoking. His conclusion is that the lowest plausible level for a health effect from residual meth in a property was 24 times the MOH guidelines.
His rationale is that the MOH guidelines (which he peer reviewed when they came out in 2010) were for residual levels following the cleaning of a property following production. The effects of smoking are different and the MOH guidelines were not intended for this purpose.
At a recent meeting with Dr Kim, the current MOH guidelines were put into perspective. He said picture a grain of salt and imagine it being divided into 1,000 pieces. If one of these pieces was then a grain of meth that was dissolved and applied to a 100cm2 area, this is the equivalent of the current MOH guidelines.
It is hoped that Dr Kim's research will urgently be peer reviewed and confirmed. Having a maximum level at 24 times the current MOH guidelines would help minimise people’s fear of residual meth, reduce the number of vacant properties, decrease the emotional turmoil for affected home owners and save many millions of dollars.
Another example of the overhyped potential problem with meth is its use as a medicine. In the United States, methamphetamine is legally produced as a prescription medicine (Desoxyn®) for use in treatment of ADHD in children, narcolepsy, and short-term weight loss.
When using Meth for ADHD in children, the initial dose is one or two 5mg tablets per day. This equates to 0.23 or 0.46 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. As a comparison, the MOH guideline levels would be 0.0002 milligrams per kilogram of body weight or over 1,000 times less.
The NZPIF has spoken to two other scientists who have agreed with Dr Kim's findings and conclusions.
What is happening to improve the situation?
Standards New Zealand has been tasked with establishing standards around testing, and cleaning up, following identification of residual meth. There are 19 representatives on the committee with 9 of them being from testing or cleaning companies, 6 are national or local Government officials and 4 are independent.
The independent representatives are from the NZPIF, Independent Property Managers Association, Insurance Council and Housing NZ.
Minister Smith has said that he wants an answer from Standards as soon as possible on what levels are safe, how testing should be governed and what cleanup methods will be required. Unfortunately the Standards process takes 12 to 15 months for simple standards and this is anything but simple.
Standards NZ is hoping to establish the meth standards by mid way through next year.
Another National Minister, Andrew Bayly, is introducing a Private Member’s Bill to force landlords to advise tenants if meth is found in a property. The Bill will make it easier for landlords to inspect for and end a tenancy if it is found. The Bill is also looking at having different cleaning requirements for different levels of exposure.
The NZPIF is committed to ensuring the safety of tenants in rental properties, but we do not want to have high costs forced onto owners and tenants unnecessarily.
As the general public has been widely exposed to misguided and potentially deceptive information, a high level of independent and scientific information needs to be urgently made available.
The NZPIF is pleased that Standards NZ is to produce standards for testing and cleaning. However the public needs to be reassured immediately that their health is not at risk if certain levels of residual meth is found in their property.
Educating the public on the real potential for health effects from the residual effects of smoking meth in a property would reduce stress and anxiety, increase the supply of property and save many millions of dollars.
The Ministry of Health should peer review the studies by Dr Nick Lim as soon as possible. If his conclusions are confirmed, guidelines on acceptable levels of residual from smoking in a property should be produced immediately and made widely known to the general public.
Tenancy Tribunal Adjudicators need to be made aware of the findings by Dr Lim so they can make their rulings based on scientific facts rather than on speculation and inference.
Manufacturing is likely to produce an unhealthy environment in a property. However the incidence of Meth Labs in rental properties is reducing, due to difficulty in obtaining the main ingredient, pseudoephedrine. Because of this, meth is being imported to NZ rather than being produced here.
Motels, hotels and rental holiday homes are becoming a preferred option for cooking as producers are not living in a toxic environment and there is less chance of getting caught.
With the incidence of production falling, it is unnecessary to have mandatory checks in every rental property. However individual rental property owners should be allowed to use DIY Check Kits to identify when a property has become affected by meth and have this test recognised by the Tenancy Tribunal.
Landlords need the authority to immediately terminate a tenancy if residual meth is found in their rental property during the term of a tenancy.