LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Drug use can have many unexpected consequences. We'll explore one of them over the next few minutes. When methamphetamine is smoked, dangerous chemicals are released into the air which can cling to clothing, carpets, even walls. Indiana leads the nation in the number of meth busts, and there, thousands of homes are contaminated and uninhabitable. Barbara Brosher of member station at WFIU has more.
BARBARA BROSHER, BYLINE: Jennifer Nugent and her three kids are throwing a big blue ball around in the small living room of their rental home.
JENNIFER NUGENT: Ready, set, go.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Laughter).
BROSHER: The kids are happy, but Nugent isn't. She planned to raise them in a place with much more room to play. Two years ago, she and her husband bought a country home in the small central Indiana town of Mooresville.
NUGENT: It was blue, and it had a lot of potential for us to add on, and we really, really wanted that house (laughter).
BROSHER: But shortly after the Nugent family moved in, their dream home became a nightmare. The kids were constantly sick and struggling to sleep. The Nugents puzzled over their children's health problems until a neighbor mentioned that the previous homeowner referred to the bathroom as a smoke shop. That's when Nugent paid $50 for a methamphetamine test. The first test revealed meth levels three times the legal limit. State police here have busted more than 11,000 labs since 2007. Contaminated houses are listed on a public online database, and properties are removed from the list only after they've been cleaned by a qualified inspector. Lori Kyle Endris heads a drug testing lab for the state and says that doesn't always happen.
LORI KYLE ENDRIS: If you look at the numbers of properties versus the numbers that have been properly cleared by a qualified inspector, you're talking an 8 to 9,000 house difference, and I don't believe that all of those are sitting empty.
BROSHER: A recently passed state law aims to protect home buyers from unknowingly buying homes contaminated by meth. Just like checking a box to indicate if there's lead or asbestos on a property, homeowners must disclose whether meth was manufactured there. Just over half of states have similar disclosure laws, but, of course, they depend on the seller's honesty.
ENDRIS: I field a lot of calls from realtors wanting to know if a property has been cleaned or cleared because people aren't wanting to tell the truth.
BROSHER: Indiana-based Crisis Cleaning has a special team that works solely on decontaminating meth homes. Donetta Held says meth tests are their most in-demand service.
DONETTA HELD: We'll do a floor, a ceiling, and two walls, and we'll take an alcohol wipe, and we'll wipe within that square, put that in the jar. We label that came from the kitchen, and we do that in each room, and we overnight that to the lab, and they analyze how much meth, if any, is in that.
BROSHER: It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to decontaminate a property. That means some people just don't bother, leaving behind dozens of toxic chemicals that can contribute to lasting health problems. Those serious health risks are why Nugent wants Indiana to strengthen its laws. In her case, she says the previous homeowner didn't disclose that meth was in the home.
NUGENT: You're relying on a criminal to disclose his criminal acts to a buyer and lose the sale, you know, and, so you - I don't think that's enough.
BROSHER: Nugent wants the state to require homeowners or realtors to have meth tests performed on all listed properties. The Nugent family decided to sell their dream house even after having it decontaminated. They took a significant financial loss. For NPR News, I'm Barbara Brosher in Bloomington, Ind.
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