Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

January 26, 2014

Buyer beware: Meth-contaminated homes could be on the market

City officials combat onslaught of illegal drug labs, but home buyers still susceptible to toxic exposure.

(Continued)

The house on Purdum Street is just one instance of a crisis facing communities across the country: How to deal with meth houses.

It’s an especially big issue in Indiana, where there were more than 1,800 lab busts in 2013. Indiana was the third highest state for meth seizures in the country in 2012.

Howard County ranked seventh place in 2012 for the most lab busts in Indiana. Police seized 47 labs — a tie with Noble and Kosciusko counties. The number dropped in 2013 to 23 labs seized, but Miami County rose to eighth highest with 49 labs busted.

“In reality, those are small numbers compared to the amount of meth getting cooked out there,” said Kokomo Police Sgt. Shane Melton.

So what are Howard County officials doing to deal with the problem?

Bar the Doors

When a meth lab is seized from a house, state law requires police report it to the health department, which prohibits occupancy of the residence.

“We condemn them as soon as we hear of it. The end,” said Brook Milburn, an environmental health specialist with the Howard County Health Department.

That’s the case for around 30 houses in the county right now. One property has been condemned for 10 years after police discovered meth activity there.

Once the house is condemned, police padlock the doors and board up the windows. Milburn said that’s more than most counties do with meth houses.

“That helps us a lot,” he said. “It’s a great tool for us to keep people out of the house, but it’s an expense the city has to lay out every time they head out to one of these properties.”

After that, though, responsibility for the property lands in the lap of the owner.

State law says before anyone can move into the house, homeowners have to pay a state-certified cleaner to test the property and decontaminate it. The law doesn’t require owners to actually clean the property, however.

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