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Meth use proves costly for social housing providers in Canterbury

  1. aemetha
    Social housing providers are forking out tens of thousands of dollars to decontaminate properties that have tested positive for methamphetamine residue.

    Sixty-five Housing New Zealand (HNZ) properties in the Christchurch, Nelson and Marlborough regions have tested positive for P, and the number of affected houses across the country is increasing. On average, it costs HNZ more than $14,000 to test and decontaminate each unit.

    A spokesman said people who contaminated homes by abusing P deprived others of a home. "It is unfair on both those waiting for a state house, who have to wait longer for a house to become available, and on innocent families who may need to move out of their state house if it is contaminated from a previous tenancy." It could take several weeks or, in the worst cases, several months, to fully decontaminate a property. The rise in P contamination was attributed in part to a "greater focus on identifying homes where P may be used, or may have been used in the past [rather than manufactured]", he said.

    Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey said methamphetamine contamination posed the "greatest risk" to social housing programmes. The Mission spent $80,000 to test and decontaminate a property in 2015. The tenants were evicted prior to the test, and jib, carpet, kitchen and bathroom cabinetry and anything that absorbed the P had to be ripped out. "You have a few of those and you end up in a position where you can no longer provide social housing. You can't get insurance, and in terms of funding you get from the Ministry of Social Development for housing . . . it's certainly not included in the amount of funding you get for that." The huge cost to decontaminate the property set previous plans for social housing repairs and improvements back a year. Hawkey said the true extent of meth use was yet to be uncovered. "The question is, do we have enough programmes to help people with their addiction."

    Standards New Zealand began working in June to create the first national standard for meth testing and decontamination in houses. At the time the project was announced, Insurance Council operations manager Terry Jordan said the standard was due because there was a degree of "paranoia" about the safety of meth-contaminated property. National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep earlier said those living in a laboratory environment were at risk of adverse cardiovascular, respiratory and dermal effects. Those living in a house where previous tenants smoke methamphetamine had low risks of toxicity though.

    In the last financial year, the Christchurch City Council spent $50,000 cleaning up three units contaminated with the drug, known as P. Christchurch City Council head of housing Carolyn Gallagher said the costs had an impact on already constrained budgets and social housing wait times. Money to clean up the properties was not drawn from rates, but from the rent that social housing tenants paid.

    Residue Testing NZ franchise owner Nicola Clark had tested 60 private rentals since entering the meth-testing profession in April. Of the units tested, 25 per cent were positive for methamphetamine and two were suspected P labs. Clark said in 90 per cent of the cases, children had been living in the homes.

    Christchurch City Missioner Michael Gorman said staff had reported a concerning rise in the number of meth-users seeking support services. He suspected meth addiction affected people "across the board". Where children were exposed to meth use, it was a matter of child abuse, he said.


    - Brown stains on walls and red or yellow staining on the floors.

    - Chemical stains around the kitchen sink, laundry, toilet or stormwater drains; oily residue on surfaces.

    - Unusual chemical smells, blocked drains, missing light bulbs, numerous chemical containers, stained glass equipment and cookware, and cold tablets packages (in the rubbish or lying around).

    - Drug paraphernalia including glass pipes and needles on the property.



  1. aemetha
    Risks from exposure to methamphetamine don't add up – specialist

    GPs seeing patients alarmed about being exposed to methamphetamine poisoning are well-placed to reassure such patients the risk posed by the exposure is very small, an emergency medicine specialist says.

    Paul Quigley of Wellington Hospital says, “There is definitely quite a lot of hysteria about it, and profit making by people who do house-cleaning and reviews.” But GPs should be able to reassure patients prone to health-related anxiety or paranoia, and there are tests available for patients who need further convincing. Urine test shows recent exposure. A urine test is easily obtainable though this will show only recent exposure (within about seven hours) or regular use of methamphetamine. Testing of hair, by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), is also possible and shows exposure to methamphetamine that has occurred in the past.

    Fear over methamphetamine exposure is largely the result of a beat-up of the problem where exposure in homes, which were formerly “P labs”, has been confused with homes where meth was previously consumed, Dr Quigley says.

    Risk from contamination no worse than tobacco

    Experts, such as Nick Kim, senior lecturer in applied environmental chemistry at Massey University, say the risk of meth contamination in homes of meth smokers is less than the risk from tobacco smoking.

    Dr Quigley adds, in these cases, decontamination requires not much more than a wipe-down of hard surfaces. “There’s no way the environmental contact you would get is even close to a therapeutic level,” he says, noting that methamphetamine is used therapeutically for some conditions.

    Small number of houses affected

    While houses that have formerly been used as clandestine methamphetamine labs do pose a significant health risk and the current Ministry of Health standard (0.5ug/100cm2) has been set as a safe target level for decontamination, Dr Quigley says the number of houses where meth has been cooked is very small.

    In background notes to New Zealand Doctor he says one of the problems is the lack of correlation between acceptable environmental levels, evidence of actual physiological absorption and clinical effect. Dr Quigley points to a recent study in Barcelona (where recreational drug use is said to be on a par with New Zealand) that used pollution meters to detect the presence of drugs. It found cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine at nine sites around the city, with the concentration being higher in areas of higher population density.

    Maybe no zero level of exposure

    “It is unlikely that the levels detected will correlate to any clinical effect. It does, however, mean that environmentally there may be no such thing as a zero level of exposure,” he says. Symptoms of methamphetamine use are tachycardia, mild hypertension, feeling of wellbeing and alertness. In excess it leads to weight loss, insomnia and increasing anxiety.

    Ruth Brown
    Monday 27 June 2016, 2:22PM
    New Zealand Doctor
  2. aemetha
    The second article here is an older one from a different publication. It's intended to add a bit of context.

    There seem to be two competing narratives going on in the press here around methamphetamine contamination. Companies have staked out a market in the meth contamination clean up industry and have been accused in some articles of promoting a hysterical response. It's unclear what the extent and dangers of contamination really are here from the two narratives except in the case of where homes have been used to manufacture meth, there isn't much argument over the dangers being significant in those cases.
  3. aemetha
    Expert questions meth contamination evictions

    The scientific evidence used by Housing New Zealand to evict people for methamphetamine contamination is being questioned by an expert in the field.
    Some people have been charged large sums of money to cover the cost of decontaminating properties, based on that evidence. Housing New Zealand has ramped up its testing regime, carrying out nearly 593 tests in the last six months of last year - with 279 homes testing positive for methamphetamine.

    RNZ has obtained documents that detail the tests used in three of the most high profile evictions of the last few years. Nick Kim is a senior lecturer in environmental chemistry at Massey University and he examined the test results from the three houses. He said one of the houses was likely being used for methamphetamine production, but he had serious concerns about the other two, and the way the tests were carried out.

    Dr Kim said test results from a state house in Whangarei suggest people there had smoked methamphetamine. But he said the recommendation by the company that carried out the tests, Dowdell and Associates, that the house not be tenanted and decontaminated, was overkill. "You need a bit more of an argument to say a property shouldn't be tenanted. "When I look at the New Zealand guidelines they don't refer to de-tenanting houses - they refer to reoccupying methlabs."

    Arguably the most high profile case is from a state house in Ashburton. The tenant there was evicted and the Tenancy Tribunal ordered her to pay $34,000 for the cost of decontamination. But Dr Kim is not convinced anyone at that house had even smoked meth there. "From an analytical chemistry point of view and also knowing the traces of methamphetamine than can exist just in the community on bank notes, I know that it's easy accidentally to contaminate samples when they're being collected," Dr Kim said. "With these results I could view them two ways, I could say two of the 11 sample results show presence of methamphetamine at the property, or I could say that two of the 11 represent sample contamination that was introduced - I certainly can't prove it's not contamination."

    An investigation by TVNZ's Fair Go this year found meth contamination is so common it can be found on bank notes at levels tenants are being evicted for. Dr Kim said typically at outdoor sites where contamination is being assessed against guidelines, the results would be averaged out but this did not happened at the Ashburton house - if it had it would be well below the guideline level.

    The Tenancy Tribunal refused to comment when approached by RNZ saying it could prejudice future decisions.

    Dr Kim said Housing New Zealand was going too far in kicking out tenants after detecting forensic level drug traces and the situation was becoming bizarre. However, Housing New Zealand's chemical contamination manager Charlie Mitchell said there was zero tolerance for illegal activity. "If we can determine that the tenant is responsible for the contamination then we're going to terminate that tenancy." Housing New Zealand acknowledged the meth guidelines it applied to its houses was never intended to assess the smoking of the drug - and admitted it was "not entirely suitable" . It is participating on a committee that will develop new national meth contamination standards. Nevertheless, Mr Mitchell said the agency would continue to evict tenants in the meantime. "But as I say when people are using meth within our properties, and when we're going through the appropriate steps to carry out testing ... it's appropriate for us to act on that."

    Green Party MP Marama Davidson said some of the country's most vulnerable people were being left homeless on the back of dubious testing. She wants a moratorium on evictions to be considered until proper guidelines are in place. "Testing for P (meth) is yet another way for the government to rid itself of its responsibility to provide state housing," Mrs Davidson said.

    Dowdell and Associates, which tested the Whangarei house, also tested the Ashburton property where the tenants were left with a $34,000 bill. The scientist who carried out the testing refused to talk to RNZ, saying that was not allowed to under their contract.

    Benedict Collins
    Radio New Zealand
  4. aemetha
    English calls for more specific housing meth tests

    New meth-testing guidelines should be in place before the end of the year, Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English says.
    The Drug Foundation said Housing New Zealand was taking an over-zealous approach to testing, resulting in vulnerable citizens being evicted from their homes. Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell told Morning Report it was heartless. "I don't know how they can justify that. Housing New Zealand has spent over $20 million in the last financial year doing these tests and these cleanups. Knowing that these are flawed the minister should step in and stop taxpayers' money being wasted and vulnerable people being punished.

    Massey University environmental chemistry lecturer Nick Kim has said that removing tenants and decontaminating a house was overkill in cases where the drug had been used, rather than made. He said the traces found in houses were often far below any poisonous level.

    TVNZ's Fair Go programme also found meth contamination was so common it could be found on bank notes at levels tenants were being evicted for.

    Prof Kim also said such traces could easily contaminate samples taken for testing.

    Mr English said the current regime was set up for lab testing, and was not fit for purpose. "Now, the test as I understand it, indicates the presence of any P at all which may be a very low health risk. "According to that guideline they should not be moving people into houses where there is P contamination," he said. He said the Health Ministry would begin consulting on new guidelines in October. "It would certainly help housing New Zealand if the scientists applied themselves to coming up with a new guideline." "We would hope that within a few months there will be a standard that all the scientists regard as more appropriate. In the meantime, Housing New Zealand are doing their best to ensure that they don't inconvenience tenants any more than is necessary."

    Mr English said Housing New Zealand would continue testing for meth under the current guidelines until the new ones were in force. "Housing New Zealand is in the position where there is currently a moh guideline, you can't just wish that away - Housing New Zealand are not health experts. He said Housing NZ was fully aware of the problem it created but they did not want to be putting people into contaminated houses. "Ministry of Health stand by the guideline, and the Ministry of Health are the statutory organisation that promulgates the guideline." "I think everyone involved with this is frustrated, I suppose except for the scientists that gave us the guideline in the first place."

    Radio New Zealand
    Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly
  5. aemetha
    Housing NZ loses meth-related cases

    Housing New Zealand has lost two recent cases in the Tenancy Tribunal over its attempt to pass methamphetamine-related clean-up costs on to tenants.[IMGR="white"]https://drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=51574&stc=1&d=1470596318[/IMGR]

    Last week, RNZ investigated the methamphetamine testing Housing New Zealand has been carrying out on state houses. Tests that find tiny traces of the drug have been used to evict tenants who have then been banned from state houses and in some cases have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. But a leading scientist and the New Zealand Drug Foundation say the tests are not fit for purpose and that Housing New Zealand is going too far in kicking out tenants on the back of the test results.

    Housing New Zealand has also conceded the guidelines it uses to evict tenants are not suitable. Nevertheless, last week its chemical contamination manager Charlie Mitchell defended the ongoing evictions and the agency's zero tolerance stance saying it was working on developing "more appropriate" guidelines.

    Two recent Tenancy Tribunal decisions related to meth testing have gone against the agency. In one case, a tiny level of meth, just above the guideline, was detected on an extractor fan in a house. Housing New Zealand evicted the tenant and tried to charge them $10,000 for the clean-up in which doors were removed as well as an oven, extractor fan, and light fittings. In July this year the tribunal ruled the decontamination work bore no resemblance to the contamination. "This quote and outline of work has obviously been accepted at face value by HNZ without further enquiry or analysis," the tribunal ruled.

    In another case, ruled on in May, Housing New Zealand tried to evict a tenant for meth contamination and fine them large sums - again after low levels of meth were detected. In this case the tenant disputed the allegation and accused Housing New Zealand of breaching health and safety legislation by renting them an uninhabitable house. Housing New Zealand had to refund several months rent to the man it had accused. The Tenancy Tribunal decision found there was no way of determining when the contamination occurred.

    Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English last week admitted to Morning Report the tests being used to evict tenants were not fit for purpose. "No (they're not), and Housing New Zealand have said that," Mr English said. "They're operating to a Ministry of Health guideline which is internationally standard but it's regarded as not quite appropriate for dealing with use of P in houses."

    Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said Housing New Zealand was being heartless and called on Mr English to intervene. "I think they're out of control, Housing New Zealand has admitted these tests are flawed yet they're sticking with their zero-tolerance policy and I don't know how they can justify that. "Housing New Zealand has spent over $20 million in the last financial year doing these tests and these clean-ups knowing these tests are flawed. The minister should step in and stop the taxpayers' money being wasted and vulnerable people being punished."


    8 August 2016
    Benedict Collins
    Radio New Zealand
    Photo: Contaminated Site Solutions
  6. aemetha
    Robyn Yousef: 'What makes anybody think it's okay to do this?'

    [IMGL="white"]https://drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=51583&stc=1&d=1470678805[/IMGL]Methamphetamine smokers are wreaking havoc in our housing rental market. Along with a major shortage of properties, the number of properties needing decontamination this year is skyrocketing and the whole clean-up issue has created a burgeoning and questionable industry. There's been a lot discussed about all the problems P smoking brings, but what about the real cost - in financial and psychological terms - to the owners of these properties?

    In this one case I'm about to highlight, a former landlord who knew this tenant was a P smoker actually gave that person a glowing (excuse the pun) reference to the new landlord because he wanted the drug problem out of his own backyard.

    My friend, who had inherited this original 1905 cottage in Auckland and was looking forward to moving it on to a piece of land in Waihi, let the P smokers rent her place in light of this recommendation.

    Robyn Yousef: 'What makes anybody think it's okay to do this?'

    Methamphetamine smokers are wreaking havoc in our housing rental market. Along with a major shortage of properties, the number of properties needing decontamination this year is skyrocketing and the whole clean-up issue has created a burgeoning and questionable industry. There's been a lot discussed about all the problems P smoking brings, but what about the real cost - in financial and psychological terms - to the owners of these properties?

    In this one case I'm about to highlight, a former landlord who knew this tenant was a P smoker actually gave that person a glowing (excuse the pun) reference to the new landlord because he wanted the drug problem out of his own backyard.

    My friend, who had inherited this original 1905 cottage in Auckland and was looking forward to moving it on to a piece of land in Waihi, let the P smokers rent her place in light of this recommendation. It was only when neighbours started complaining about the endless flow of night visitors and noise that she decided to move her very well-spoken tenant on and have the house tested for P. The results of the tests back in March were positive and instead of sitting back and enjoying her relocated home in Waihi (a house with a true emotional connection as it was owned by her grandparents), she is now reflecting on months of misery and expense.

    In the meantime, the tenants had merrily moved on and probably are polluting yet another house - making it unliveable in these times where rental homes are needed so desperately. My friend sent this letter to her former tenant. I think her words sum up the frustration and powerlessness of so many decent landlords out there: "Hello Richard*, I thought you would be keen to hear an update on what happened over on the North Shore at the little cottage we entrusted to your care for a short time. "My daughter, who was to move in, never could and had to make other arrangements with one day's notice after we got the dreaded results that it was contaminated with P.

    "We have lost $400 per week rent since that time (March). Got a calculator? "We have incurred testing costs of around $3500. "I had to spend a lot of time chasing up the clean-up which was meant to happen while I was away on leave, but of course, did not. "I missed my June window to have the cottage shifted to Waihi, and God knows when that will happen now as the ground is wet and further decontamination is required. "We incurred a $15,000 clean-up cost. And there is more expense still to come. "I spent countless hours organising the tests and clean-up (where do you go when prices vary so wildly and there is so much controversy about cowboys out there)? Then when the tests were done I had to chase up the results as of course, they had the wrong contact details.

    "Following the decontamination, I've been informed that the main bedroom has failed the clean-up and looks like all the gib (redone only six years ago) has to be removed and replaced. "Out went the stove, fridge, switchboard, carpets, curtains, light fittings and all internal doors. Pantry doors also. I have to replace! "Now, I may be considered rather dense as to why I need to ask this, but what make anybody think it's okay to do this to someone else's property? Your indulgent, illegal activity of smoking P should surely be put off until one has one's own house to contaminate? I didn't have children until I had a house to put them in. I feel guilty if I return a magazine to the library with a crumpled cover. "Can you please enlighten me?"

    My friend doesn't expect a reply, but I thought it was important to share her part in the cycle of misery P generates.

    * Not his real name, although it should be to warn prospective landlords.

    9 August 2016
    Robyn Yousef
    The New Zealand Herald
    Photo / Greg Bowker
  7. aemetha
    Meth contamination guidelines 'needed now'

    [IMGR="white"]https://drugs-forum.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=51721&stc=1&d=1471215274[/IMGR]New methamphetamine contamination guidelines cannot come soon enough, Auckland District Law Society says.

    Methamphetamine contamination guidelines being developed by Standards New Zealand are expected to be ready early next year.

    Auckland District Law Society vice president Joanna Pidgeon said testing for meth prior to properties being sold was becoming more common - particularly in rental homes - despite a lack of understanding about the issue. Current Ministry of Health guidelines designed to help clean up former meth labs were instead being used to assess homes in which the drug may have been smoked, Ms Pidgeon said. She said houses were being deemed uninhabitable when tiny traces of the drug are detected, despite experts saying the levels were so low they posed absolutely no risk to health.

    The guidelines, which would not be ready until March, were needed now, she said. "In the meantime tenants, landlords, lawyers are left with a bit of a black hole in terms of what is safe, what is unsafe in terms of contamination and how tests should be carried out," she said. "Because there are differences in terms of methodology from different testers, what should be done for remediation - there is suspicion over some testers that are involved in remediation as well that they have their own agenda in terms of drumming up extra remediation work. "So we really cannot get these guidelines soon enough to address that black hole that we have at the moment."

    Recent Tenancy Tribunal decisions have awarded massive clean-up cost compensation to Housing New Zealand tenants because tiny traces of the drug have been detected.

    But Ms Pidgeon said the Tribunal's decisions were inconsistent. "One of the issues with the Tenancy Tribunal is there isn't much communication between different people within the Tribunal. "Without education and training for Tribunal adjudicators they may not be aware of how the standards are supposed to work."

    The Ministry of Health has repeatedly refused to make anyone available for an interview on its meth lab decontamination guidelines.

    Ms Pidgeon said the ministry needed to clarify whether the guidelines were being misused.

    Green MP Marama Davidson said people's lives were being ruined by the Ministry's silence. "Until we get these standards sorted out they need to be clear ... I think this is incredibly irresponsible, what seems like a cowboy industry is running loose."

    National Party MP Andrew Bayly agreed there needed to be standardisation of meth testing in New Zealand and more appropriate testing guidelines. He was hopeful the government would adopt a bill he proposed which, he said, would also lead to a fairer relationship between tenants and landlords when it came to meth testing and contamination. "The first bit is about protecting the obligations of the landlord - what that allows is for a landlord to be able to enter their property, with sufficient notice, and do testing," Mr Bayly said. Mr Bayly said at the moment a landlord could take a real estate agent into a property but not a meth tester. "On the other side, what it says, is if a landlord does test a house and finds it exceeds the minimum threshold, he or she must disclose that information to the tenant."

    15 August 2016
    Benedict Collins
    Photo: 123RF
    Radio New Zealand
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