Real Estate Agents Testing For Meth Lab Evidence At End Of Lease

"Meth labs. It's out of control."

Moving into a rental property and there's a fresh coat of paint? It might be indicative of something far more sinister than a simple gesture of good will.

"No tenants will go out of their way to paint your property," said Josh Marsden, managing director of a highly unusual company.

"They're covering something up."

Marsden runs a company that specialises in particularly grisly clean-up jobs -- murders, suicides, unattended deaths, anything not covered in your average house clean.

But the job keeping him most busy at the moment?

"Meth labs. It's out of control."

Five years ago, his company -- which operates in all seven stages and territories -- would have maybe done two clean-ups a year. Now, it's two a week.

"We used to only come in when there was an insurance claim or a home was actually busted by police," he said.

"Now there's a lot more people testing their houses."

He told ten daily that it's becoming common for real estate agents to test properties at the end of a lease, or for prospective buyers to organise a test alongside a property inspection.

The DIY test kits aren't too dissimilar to a pregnancy test, he said. You swab a wall with a cotton bud, dip it in a solution, swish it around, and wait for line to tell you if it's positive or negative. If it's positive, you take the next step and get laboratory testing.

Clean-up for a property where meth has been cooked can take anywhere from one to two weeks, and cost between $10,000 and $50,000 -- and that's before you get onto things like replacing carpets, plasterboards or entire kitchens.

A meth lab discovered at a home in Beverly Hill, in Sydney's south-west, in July this year. Photo: AFP.

Increasingly, real estate agents are being asked to act as the first line of defense when it comes to spotting meth labs.

Malcolm Gunning, president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, told ten daily that he's been in conversation with the Attorney-General's office about equipping agents with the resources to spot and report evidence of meth labs.

"But real estate agents aren't environmental engineers," he said.

"They're not necessarily equipped, but, with education, would be able to ask enough open ended questions or look for potential incidences."

The health risks of moving into a contaminated residence can be severe. You're at risk of headaches, respiratory problems, skin rashes, eye irritation and watering, difficulty sleeping, strange or vivid dreams, and behavioural changes including increased aggression and depression.

"The most obvious is usually an unexplained cough or rash, difficulty sleeping, and for some, behavioural changes -- these occur when living at the home and mostly go away within a few days or being out of the home," said Dr Jackie Wright, director at Environmental Risk Sciences.

"The pattern of being unwell in the home and then feeling much better when out of the home, even for a few days, is a good indication that there may be something in the home that's making you unwell."

People with pre-existing health conditions have reported significant health problems, she said.

Another meth lab discovered at a property raided by NSW Police in April this year. Photo: NSW Police.

However, it does conflict with recent research in New Zealand -- which Gunning describes as a world "leader" in meth labs -- which found that there was "no evidence in medical literature" of anyone being harmed from passive use.

New Zealand's Chief Science Adviser Peter Gluckman told local media that a "moral panic" had prompted the nation-wide cleaning and remediation process, and noted that mould proved a much larger health risk to tenants than meth residue.

For Marsden, however, the job continues. When he spoke to ten daily, he was on his way to another property in Tasmania, although it's Western Australia and Victoria that's keeping him busiest at the moment.

"Some of the houses we test, I walk in to them and think, there's no way it's going to test positive," he said.

"Then we get the results back and it's 200 times over, and I wouldn't even be able to tell."

HAZMAT suits are just par for the course in contamination cleanup. Photo: Meth Lab Cleaners Australia.

He did a job recently in Melbourne where an explosion had blown the window out.

"I went in and the first thing I saw was the smoke damage," he said.

"They'd painted over the kitchen, they'd actually painted the roof again. But we only detected like, five times the amount.

"Obviously these guys tried to make meth and failed pretty miserable.

It's the people who live in the expensive houses who tend to have the more elaborate set ups, he said.

"Nobody knows what's going on."

Get in contact: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au