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Our View: Tell renters about meth labs

Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 10:03 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 1, 2014 9:00 a.m. CDT

If people want to sell a property known to have housed a methamphetamine lab, state law requires them to tell any prospective buyers about it.

But if they just want to rent that property, there’s no requirement that they disclose anything, according to an Illinois Department of Public Health representative.

What’s more, the state doesn’t really have a system for ensuring that property owners clean up the toxic chemicals that can be released by a meth-making operation.

This is both an unfair double standard as well as a public health hazard that calls for a change in state law.  

Meth labs release toxic chemicals that can be absorbed by building materials and furniture, and that toxic residue can continue to be released for years after the meth-making operation is shut down.

Independent testing commissioned by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper found that some properties that had housed meth labs still had detectable levels of chemicals present four years after a bust.

In the past six months, DeKalb police have uncovered two meth labs, each in properties that are not owner-occupied. The first was found at Travel Inn in October, and the second was discovered Friday in an upstairs apartment at 400 418 N. Eleventh St.

Police said that the some of the same people connected with the first operation were also involved in the second. Local officials seemed somewhat unsure as to what agency or department would clear the apartment to be suitable for habitation again.

In a way, it’s a good thing that local officials do not have much experience dealing with meth labs – we hope they do not become a bigger problem here.

However, the residue they leave behind can pose health risks to innocent people who move in later. The Illinois Department of Public Health prescribes an extensive cleaning regimen, including airing out the building, using an HEPA vacuum and washing surfaces and repainting.

There are companies that specialize in that kind of work. The cost of paying for the cleanup falls to the property owner.

It’s certainly not ideal, but the actions of tenants are part of the risk of being a landlord. And landlords should be required to tell future tenants that, yes, there was a meth lab operated here, but we have followed all the steps necessary to make this apartment not only safe, but probably cleaner than it was before.

When it comes to basic health, that of a renter is no different than that of a property owner.

Anyone who is considering either renting or buying a property where a meth lab has been found has a right to know that information before making a decision. And a local or state agency should be charged with ensuring that an adequate cleanup is conducted before anyone else is permitted to live there.

Lawmakers in Springfield should amend state law to eliminate this dangerous loophole.

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