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The mess left by meth labs - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

The mess left by meth labs

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Thursday, a meth lab was discovered at a home in St. Albans. It's the 10th bust in the past nine months in the state. From 2010 to 2012 there were none.

Neighbors on Sandra Circle in Burlington say life is returning to normal after a meth lab was discovered in a rental property in their neighborhood in May.

"We hope it's going to be safe and we hope he gets decent people in there," said Leonard Berthiume, who lives on Sandra Circle.

But there are no state laws requiring the house be thoroughly decontaminated or made safe before being rented out again, and the Vermont Department of Health says that raises big concerns. Meth is a highly explosive mix of toxic chemicals like battery acid, household cleaners and pseudoephedrine.

"So, we worry about porous materials, things like couches, drapes and carpets, because those things can't be cleaned very easy," said Sarah Vose, a toxicologist for the state of Vermont.

Other states require those things be thrown away and the rest of the house be tested for illegal drug residue, extensively cleaned and tested again. But not Vermont.

"We know that methamphetamine has effects on the brain and effects on the heart," Vose said.

Vose is working on a recommendation to lawmakers on reported health issues in other states and their cleanup policies. She says people in other states report sneezing, itchy eyes and headaches so frequent they can't live in the house. Babies also run the risk of ingesting meth residue or its toxic ingredients.

"Children between the ages of birth and two years spend a lot of time on the floor. They also touch a lot of surfaces and put their hands in their mouths, so they could be transferring any chemical's residue that's left over to their mouths," Vose said.

The city of Burlington's code enforcement director, Bill Ward, is working around the lack of laws and exercising the city's muscle on Sandra Circle.

"There isn't a specific code that someone has to tell you that there was a meth lab, but the general requirement is the property be clean and sanitary. And my position was it hasn't been certified as clean and sanitary at this point," Ward said.

Ward has declared the rental unit unsafe for human habitation until the landlord does a thorough cleaning and testing. But he admits he didn't inspect the property until three weeks after the lab was discovered by authorities, and only after several neighbors complained and the Drug Enforcement Agency sent him a letter warning the property could be contaminated.

"But if we didn't get a report there's no way for us to know there was that type of activity in the apartment," Ward said.

That's something Vose and the Department of Health are looking into; their report is due to the Legislature in January.

Because the tenants are in jail, their personal effects are still inside. The landlord does have to wait for them to remove their belongings before he can begin the cleanup process. The landlord tells WCAX he plans to follow all the city's recommendations.

There are no laws requiring disclosure of a meth lab. And since right now there are no laws requiring cleanup, there's a chance a landlord could rent a place again without cleaning it and without disclosing it to new tenants. That's something Sarah Vose and the department of health are looking into.

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