How 1 Family Discovered Their New Home Was a Former Meth Lab

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A family in Australia who developed health problems found out their sickness had an unusual cause: They had unknowingly moved into a home that was a former meth laboratory, according to a new report of the case.

Just months before the family moved in, the home was the site of a clandestine drug laboratory, where the owner made methamphetamine.

Police discovered the laboratory in May 2013, arrested the owner and notified other authorities that the home needed to be decontaminated because it contained harmful chemicals. The local council issued a notice for the cleaning of the property, but this cleaning wasn't performed, the report said.

The property was sold a few months later, but the new owners were never informed that the home had previously been a meth laboratory. In October 2013, the family of five — a mother, father and their three children — moved in. ['Breaking Bad': 6 Strange Meth Facts]

Seven months passed before the local council contacted the family and told them that their home was a former drug laboratory. Testing of the home took place from May to October 2014, and revealed that methamphetamine was present on surfaces in the home. The levels ranged from 11.7 micrograms per 100 cubic centimeters to 26.0 micrograms per 100 cubic centimeters — well above the Australian limit of 0.5 micrograms per 100 cubic cm, the report said. The family vacated the property in March 2015.

While living in the home, all of the family members experienced health problems, which continued for some time after they moved out. The mother reported a persistent cough, along with weight loss and excess energy, and the father reported worsening memory, dizziness and blurry vision.

The youngest child, a 7-year-old boy, developed asthma-like symptoms, as well as behavioral changes, including anxiety and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which he did not have before the family lived in the home. All of the family members reported having sore, watery eyes, and several members reported trouble sleeping.

Exposure to methamphetamine residues can cause symptoms similar to those seen in people actually taking meth, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). These include high energy, anxiety, trouble sleeping, increased distractibility, weight loss and memory troubles, according to the National Institutes of Health. Exposure to the chemicals involved in making meth can cause other symptoms, including nose and throat irritation, dizziness and breathing difficulties, IDPH says.

The report highlights the importance of effectively identifying and decontaminating clandestine drug laboratories, the researchers said.

"If properties formerly used for the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine are not properly cleaned, the public might be unknowingly exposed to drug residues," the researchers who reported the family's case wrote in the Jan. 6 issue of the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which is published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Appropriate identification and management of these properties, including measures by authorities to prevent the sale of unremediated homes, are important to prevent exposures and adverse health effects."

All of the family members had samples of their hair tested for methamphetamine one week after they moved out, to better determine their level of exposure to the drug. The tests showed that the family's two youngest children, both boys, had the highest levels of methamphetamine in their hair, with 330 and 460 picograms per milligram. Previously, studies have found that children living in clandestine drug laboratories can have levels of methamphetamine in their hair ranging from 100 to 131,000 pg/mg, the report said.

The family's 11-year-old daughter had a lower level of methamphetamine in her hair samples, around 50 pg/mg. The mother's level was 17 pg/mg, and the father's level was 5 pg/mg.

The family reported that most of their health problems resolved within a year of moving out, according to the researchers.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.