Monday, May 16, 2011

If You Must Know...

Here is a little bit of a change of pace for you guys. I imagine after a while my blog could become... somewhat depressing... Now I have other aspects of my job to write about and they have nothing to do with death and blood. What is this not so depressing aspect of my job you ask? It has to do with drug addiction. Methamphetamine to be exact. Still kind of a downer but it's at least beating hearts are involved. Really really fast beating hearts.
Cleaning meth out of a house is an unbelievable amount of work. It is almost to the point of being a ridiculous amount of work. Before I attempt to find an interesting way to describe the process a bit I will clear up a few things that I am sure some of you are wondering about.

* Is it actually a hazard to live in a house that once had a lab or frequent meth users occupying it?
    Yes and no. The main concern is directed towards children. In most cases as an adult you do not have much to worry about. However, in most cases a child would have to lick every wall in the house up, down, and all around to have any affect on them at all. In fact, the paint might be more of a hazard. But in a home that used to have an actual lab in it there is a much higher chance of there being an actual hazard.
* What makes living in a home where there was a meth lab so hazardous?
    The cooking process creates dangerous acid gases such as phosphine and hydrogen chloride. Not to mention how dangerous the actual chemicals used to cook are. Sodium hydroxide (lye), hydroidic acid (hyrogen iodide) and ammonia (anhydrous ammonia) to name a few. The residue left over from methamphetamine easily soaks into pourous surfaces like wood or carpet and will stick to smooth, flat surfaces. With higher levels it becomes an issue.
*Could I be living in a former meth house?
    Utah and a lot of the western states such as Nevada and Wyoming usually make up the top 10 states when it comes to meth usage. It wouldn't be surprising if someone has used in your home in the past. But no need to fear, there are laws that say unless a home has been decontaminated a realtor, landlord, or bank must disclose if a house tested < 1 for methamphetamine. There is always a chance someone is not following that law but this law greatly reduces your chances of moving into a contaminated home. Some banks will have every repossessed house and random other homes tested just in case, and some realtors will do the same. Most sellers don't want a new resident getting sick. There is a stigma that goes along with meth and even with extremely low levels we have to clean. It's mostly a comfort thing unless a lab was involved.

No matter what part of town you live in you can't escape methamphetamine users. From homeless junkies to stay at trophy wives just trying to live up to their expectations this drug can be a part of anyone's life. Meth is taking over the world like a sickness and the more I learn about it the more my stomach churns. The first house I cleaned was in a nice part of South Jordan. It was in a nice neighborhood with nice mothers going on walks with their nice baby strollers and pets that don't bark or bite at you. It was obvious the neighborhood was not used to seeing the pink restricted access sign with the yellow and black striped caution tape on their neighbor's doors. My coworker was approached by a neighbor with the question "What are you doing in there that you have to dress like THAT?" (referring to our Tyvek suits and respirators) We are not allowed to disclose such information so I can imagine the neighborhood had something to talk about amongst themselves. I joked with my coworkers that we should bring fake blood to the meth clean ups and when people start getting nosey splatter it on each other and run out of the house ripping off our respirators and breathing hard like something really gruesome happened in there. Or just simply smoke cigarettes on the front porch covered in "blood", give a friendly wave to the neighbors, and go about our business. That's what the nosey people get. haha. Then they would REALLY have some good gossip.
This house was empty for a while so squatters have been moving in and out, it wasn't a stay at home mom situation like I expected. In order to keep your attention span on this blog I will save the actual decontamination process for another day. Just know that even the veteren cleaners wanted to throw down their scrubbin' poles and walk away from it. If you have been wondering what the nightmares of a crime scene cleaner are like just imagine cleaning high vaulted ceilings and many rooms with un neccisary angles over and over again for hours. Add the hot suit while breathing through a respirator and soaking in chemicals that make your face go numb and you have an idea. I questioned architecture and if the architects ever considered the fact that people will at some point clean the house for one reason or another. Probably not, probably never, oh well.
Following that home we went to do a touch up clean at some apartments in West Valley. The top unit and the unit below both needed our attention. Seperate situations. We seem to get a two birds with one stone situation often. These homes tested high. To put it in perspective for you the law states that if we test a house and it is <1 for meth we have to clean it. A meth lab is around <100-200 and above for really serious cases. The South Jordan home was a 3 (hence, my resentment for all of the work that required) and these apartments were between 40 and 50. Even just smoking in a home a couple of times will test high enough to be cleaned. Ugh. Annoying. Anyway, there were little kids running around the complex and they were very curious about what we were up to. There is an endless list of akward moments with this job and a 4 year old kid stating "You guys always have to come here and clean" closely followed by "Can I help you?" is one of those moments. When he grows up he will probably pick up on what those pink signs mean. Pink is his favorite color, he told us so. We gave him a pair of gloves to entertain an distract him from trying to run into the units to help. Kids don't seem to understand when you tell them something is dangerous. We're cleaning up homes for their safety essentially.
So here is my first entry about this part of my job. Maybe not as interesting to read about as the biohazard stuff but I will keep trying to give deep insight on it regardless. There is more to think about in regards to addiction, what people are willing to put into their bodies, why people use, the expectations of who uses meth, what meth does to the mind, the decontamination process, how parking a crime scene vehical in front of a home arouses the neighborhood etc. Stay tuned. Thanks for taking an interest in my blog. :)


  1. Ha, remember how paranoid/intrigued I was when there was a crime scene van parked a few doors down?? Now I have a better idea why just from reading this :) But interestingly enough, I do wonder how many houses up in the nice area by Parley's Canyon are labs... hidden away with the rich and well-to-do. :) Very interesting. Thanx for posting, my dear.

  2. Great post! Very interesting!

    I lived in a trailer once that got shut down for meth. We were out of town camping and one of my room mates (who never went with us and now we know why) was drying meth out and selling it.

    I always wondered how they rated meth on a home and when it had to be cleaned verses when it did physical damage. Thanks for the info!!