May 22, 2013 1:17 PM by Jacqui Heinrich,

You could be living in a former meth lab and not even know it

You could be living in a former meth lab right now and not even know it. A News 5 investigation recently uncovered a Colorado Springs family who unknowingly rented out a former meth lab that was never cleaned up. News 5's Jacqui Heinrich stayed on top of that story and discovered hundreds of families could be in the same situation.

Three hundred and nine: that's how many meth labs were busted in the Springs in the last twelve years but never got cleaned up. News 5 wanted to know what happened to those labs so we grabbed our map and we took a drive; what we found was surprising.

We visited thirty randomly selected former meth labs from the Colorado Springs Police Department's Meth Lab Registry and in mot cases found families living in them. In one Mountain Shadows home there were five small children, including an infant.

So how can people live in condemned homes where toxic chemicals were once cooked? It comes down to gaps in the law-- a whole lot of them.

"Absolutely people are at risk," Commander Thor Eells told News 5's Jacqui Heinrich in an exclusive interview. Eells heads up the Colorado Springs Police Department's Metro Vice, Narcotics, and Intelligence Unit.

"Tell me what happens when a meth lab is discovered, whats the process?" Heinrich asked Eells. "We notify the owner that there is or has been a meth lab at their property and essentially it becomes their responsibility to perform a cleanup of the property or to destroy it. Those are their two options," Eells replied.

Say the homeowner decides they want to clean it up. According to Colorado law the homeowner must hire an industrial hygienist to do the cleanup then provide documentation to police so the address can be removed from the Meth Lab Registry...but there are even problems with that.

To be a certified industrial hygienist there are a lot of qualifications. "There are not those defined criteria for an industrial hygienist, that is very much open to interpretation," Eells told Heinrich. "Does the law require the cleanup to be performed by a certified industrial hygienist?" Heinrich asked. "No it does not," Eells said.

So the cleanup gets done by someone who may or may not be qualified to render a home safe for living, but then police never go back and confirm it's been treated before the home is removed from the list. "It's strictly an honor system," Eells said of the protocol.

What if you live in a house that was on the meth list but got removed? "Certainly somebody could still be exposed, we don't know and we wouldn't know without some independent verification that a cleanup had been done," Eells said.

Then there are the homes that never got cleaned. "We aren't out checking on those residences to see whether people are living in them or not," Eells told Heinrich.

So how are you to know if the home you rent or buy is safe? Don't expect any help from the law. It's not a crime for someone to rent or sell a meth house to an unknowing tenant. The only thing that's actually against the law: removing the 'condemned' sign. That'll get you a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. "It's a very minor offense, yes." Eells said of the state statutes. "I don't think it's enough, it certainly creates the potential for people to be harmed through no fault of their own by illegal activities and that is frustrating for us."

It might seem like neglect by the police department, but their hands are tied. The law doesn't require them to do anything more than they're already doing, and anything more than that would cost money the department doesn't have. Legislators made efforts to change existing law earlier this month but police say it's still not enough. Watch News 5 tonight at 10:00 to find out what's NOT being done.



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