Group calls for provincial standards for cleaning air after marijuana grow-op
CALGARY - Houses used for marijuana grow operations are usually an obvious mess, dingy and littered with burst pipes, broken walls and illegal wiring.
But even after the rows of plants are hauled away and all visible traces of destruction cleaned up, hundreds of types of mould can linger in the walls and floors, sickening those who unwittingly live there next.
A new University of Calgary study commissioned by the Alberta Real Estate Association calls on the province to lay down rules to fix the air quality in these former drug dens.
Standards are in place to fix the plumbing, heating and structural damage, but air quality is not always considered, said Bill Fowler, director of industry and government relations with the association.
"To those people who occupy those properties, these are huge issues," he said. "They need to know that a property that has been remediated as a former drug operation is safe for them to inhabit."
Researcher Tang Lee said the high heat and intense need for moisture of grow operations conspire to form ideal breeding grounds for many types of mould. In some cases, this mould infiltrates the building's walls, lurking undetected unless specifically trained inspectors ferret it out.
Other side-effects of drug houses, such as burst pipes or malfunctioning heaters, can also help this mould to grow.
Mould affects the next tenants in varying ways, but can be especially dangerous for people with comprised immune systems, cancer or respiratory problems.
"They could be quite sick, there's been cases where it can be fatal to some individuals," he said.
Fowler said he's heard anecdotal complaints from people who have lived in fixed-up drug houses, comments like, "I'm not feeling right, I don't feel quite up to snuff."
But it was a review of how different areas of the province clean up these drug dens that revealed that many areas outside Calgary and Edmonton don't consider air quality at all.
"There are some other communities that haven't done anything. They're just saying, 'get rid of the marijuana plant and move right back in'," said Lee.
An estimate puts the number of grow operations in southern Alberta at about 5,000, said Staff Sgt. Darren Cave of the Calgary police drug unit.
Officers who enter the houses have to wear breathing masks and full-body suits, he said. Many of the houses have been grow operations multiple times, causing the mould to continue to spread.
"All this is just making that home a toxic wasteland."
Lee's report suggests the Alberta government needs to write strict standards for cleaning up these grow-ops, including ensuring people who test air quality are qualified and contractors who fix up these houses know how to deal with mould safely.
A checklist should be created to ensure that every house is cleaned up to the same standards, he said.
He also suggests a registry so that people know whether the home they're buying was once home to a grow operation, noting cleanup can cost up to $40,000.
"Right now, you go to buy a car, you need to find out whether it's been in a crash or not," he said. "Likewise, a homeowner needs to know (whether it has been a grow-op)."
Fowler said he met with a number of politicians and Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk about the issue, and was told to come back with more information and a plan.
He said he plans to bring Lee's study with him to further consultations in October.
Lee said despite the fact that other provinces such as British Columbia have a much higher rate of grow operations, none have any kind of provincial legislation in place to deal with the issue of cleanup.
He said he's surprised the issue has been missed so far.
"There is a definite health hazard and we need to address that by making sure these homes that have been former grow-ops are safe."
September 02, 2009 6:52 p.m.