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December 15, 2013

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Meth labs so prevalent, test kits on market for homebuyers

INDIANAPOLIS — Donetta Held knows how strange the world of methamphetamine is.

Along with her husband, Rick, she owns one of the top meth lab cleanup companies in Indiana. When she walks into a home once occupied by a meth cook, she has to assume it’s booby-trapped:  Meth makers do weird things like pouring gasoline into light bulbs so that if the cops bust in and flip a switch, the fixture will explode.

“If you’d told me when I was a little girl that I’d be making my living off other people’s illegal activity when I grew up,” Held said, “I would have said, ‘There’s no way.’”

But here she is, cleaning up the toxic debris of other people’s illicit, messy lives.

And business, depending upon how one views it, couldn’t be better.

Held was running her family-owned construction company in rural Greene County when she launched Crisis Cleaning in 2001. She started out cleaning up crime scenes. In 2007, she turned to cleaning up meth lab sites after police told her of the crying need for the service.

They were right. By 2010, Held’s business was booming, and it’s gotten better each year. In terms of both production and use, Indiana is the third-largest meth capital in the nation, right behind Missouri and Tennessee. State police, who’ve busted nearly 1,900 meth labs so far this year, are convinced they’ve just touched the surface.

In 2011, Held published “The Meth Solution,” a primer for professionals on cleaning up the toxic and volatile chemicals left in the woodwork, drywalls, ventilation and sewer pipes of a dwelling used as a meth lab site. (One helpful tip: To clean surfaces, use Crystal Clean, a foam developed by the federal government to kill anthrax.)

Concerned there were meth-contaminated homes out there that weren’t getting cleaned, Held developed a meth-residue test kit for homebuyers who want to avoid the $400 or more fee for a professional inspection. The $49 kit includes processing by the same lab used by Held and the other meth cleanup companies certified by the state.

The kit is becoming popular. Matt Duncan, a professional colleague of Held’s, who works for Bio-Meth Management, knows why: Using the one-pot method, meth is an easy drug to concoct using common ingredients, such as sulfuric acid, lighter fluid and the pseudoephedrine found in cold medicines.

“If you want to make it tonight, you can find the recipe on the Internet, go to Walmart and buy yourself all the ingredients, mix it up in a pop bottle, and you’ve got meth,” said Duncan.

Not that he advises it. Like Held, Duncan has seen nasty things: houses littered with needles and pornography intermingled with children’s toys. Distraught family members driven from their homes by meth cookers. And so much filth.

“The smell when someone’s making or doing meth is like a cat litter box that hasn’t been scooped in three weeks,” Held said.

Neither Held nor Duncan see an end to their work — not as long as meth is so easy to make.

Both would like to see county health departments given more power to keep people out of meth-contaminated houses until those dwellings are decontaminated. Held thinks professional home inspectors should be required to check a house for meth-residue — just like they check for termite damage.

“If I was going to buy a house, I’d have it checked for meth,” Held said. “I don’t care if it was a million-dollar home, I’d still have it tested. These days, you just don’t know.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.

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