COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Hundreds of properties in South Carolina were the site of a meth lab and majority of those locations have not been decontaminated.
In the past five years, police said they've seen a 400 percent increase in the number of meth labs in the state. However, it is what's not done after the labs are found that may be putting your health at risk.
Long after the crime scene tape comes down, experts say the chemical danger left in former meth labs sites can remain for years. But don't expect anyone to tell you your home, car or even your motel room was once the site of a drug lab.
Meth lab remnants
Behind fallen police tape, clean up started at a recently raided meth lab.
"Him and his mother were living here, and I was very happy with them," said Judith Wright, landlord of a Clinton property where the meth lab was located. "Thought they were really nice people, and it was really just a surprise."
The man Wright refers to is 28-year-old Todd McGill, of Lexington. McGill came to his former home while WIS was interviewing Wright, asking whether he can retrieve his items from the home. Police said he was cooking meth in the house, with his mother inside.
"I'm not too sure she realizes what's going on," Wright said. "I know she knows her things are still in the house … she's not doing too well I think."
Inside the home, the chemicals used to make meth have created a dangerous chemical contamination that's saturated the house.
"There are particles in the air that are the result of cooking that meth," said Lt. Max Dorsey, with the S.C. Law Enforcement Division. "Those lie on flat surfaces. They lay in the carpet and other surfaces of the room, the house, the motel, the vehicle."
Cleaning companies, like Hisco Environmental, specialize in meth lab decontamination. When they go into a home that was previously evacuated by police, they salvage through items to see what can be saved. Sentimental items are cleaned by hand to try to get rid of any meth lab residue.
"Normally, it would be a 100 percent loss, but we come in and it's a 20-50 percent loss," said Michael Snelgrove of Hisco Environmental.
Air particles from the drug labs can also stay on children's clothes and toys, traveling where the children go.
"When those children go to school, there's documented cases of that residue from their clothing making a whole classroom sick," said Scotty Salter, of Hisco Environmental.
Police also leave behind items that could have been used in the meth lab.
"All they're going to do is remove the hazardous chemicals," Snelgrove said. "They're not going to do any decontamination of the property."
More than 1,400 meth labs have been found by police in South Carolina since 2011.
"The backlog of the properties are contaminated and still have meth residue," Snelgrove said. "Unfortunately, there probably are families that are residing in those houses at this time."
Living in a home or riding in a car that was used for a meth lab at one point can cause health problems.
"You can see lung problems. You can see stomach problems. If you absorb enough of it, you absolutely can see neurological problems," said pediatrician Dr. Deborah Greenhouse.
Currently under state law, no one is required to tell you that your home, apartment or car was once used as a drug lab. There are also no specific cleaning requirements.
"It is up to the property owner if they want to clean that environment," Dorsey said.
In Wright's case, she is taking responsibility and cleaning up her home because the city of Clinton requires her to do so. The city of Clinton and the city of Anderson have cleaning requirements for all properties, as well as Laurens and Greenville counties. Richland County requires hotels and motels be decontaminated after meth labs are found.
"I don't want people who live here in the future to be sick or exposed to meth," she said.
It won't be long until another family will be able to move into Wright's rental home. In that case, they'll be able to rest easy. But others in South Carolina might not be so lucky.
"If you are moving to a new property, research it," Snelgrove said. "If the state isn't going to step up and do things on a statewide level, at least do the right thing for your family."
Lawmakers are becoming aware of the dangers associated with untreated former meth labs. There's legislation in the State House that would require meth lab sites to be documented to SLED and prospective renters or property owners.
If you want to know if your property was ever the site of a meth or drug lab, you can check the Drug Enforcement Administration's website. The most updated information can also be found at local police departments.