Fair Go has been investigating the meth detection industry and what we found is disturbing.
Companies are charging hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to test for traces of methamphetamine and tens of thousands to clean it up, while the Ministry of Health has now admitted to Fair Go there is no guidance on whether P at those trace levels actually poses a risk to human health.
A P lab is a toxic bombshell. Dangerous solvents, chemical wastes and nasty stains that will make you very sick. And methamphetamine residue, all over the walls and floors at a level that could also make you sick.
At this time we are not aware of any health guidance developed just around contamination caused by the use of methamphetamine- Ministry of Health
The Ministry of Health recommends cleaning a former lab site down to a microscopic level of methamphetamine because that will get rid of all those other nasty chemicals and ensure the home is safe to live in again.
But in a house where P has been smoked, not manufactured, health officials admit none of those other nasties will be there.
"At this time we are not aware of any health guidance developed just around contamination caused by the use of methamphetamine. We have asked a toxicologist to look at this issue," says the Ministry of Health's Paul Prendergast in response to Fair Go's investigation.
The Ministry of Health has also confirmed to Fair Go that its guidelines were developed from research and overseas advice on cleaning up labs. Labs. Not homes where there are drug traces from smoking P.
The trouble is the industry, councils, real estate agents and insurers and a very frightened public are telling each other and being told that if the level of meth alone is over the guideline, your house is contaminated and you need to call the men in white suits and masks and start ripping and spending.
The Ministry of Health recommends clean-up if meth (in a P lab) tests more than 0.5 microgrammes /100cm2.
You'd have to be about 20 times higher than the meth clean-up guideline before you hit the lowest plausible point at which you might expect or could get a health effect in a toddler who’s crawling around all the time- Dr Nick Kim
Fair Go has put it to Massey University toxicologist Dr Nick Kim, a chemist who peer-reviewed those meth lab clean-up guidelines when they were developed six years ago.
That guideline cleanup level is tiny – imagine cutting a grain of salt into a thousand pieces, take one of those pieces and dissolve it in a drop of water.
Spray the drop over an area the size of half an envelope. When it dries out, the residue is the same amount of meth we're talking about that should trigger a clean-up. In. A. Lab.
If your home has only been used for smoking P not making it, Dr Nick Kim has an opinion that should send a huge wave through the testing industry.
"You'd have to be about 20 times higher than the meth clean-up guideline before you hit the lowest plausible point at which you might expect or could get a health effect in a toddler who's crawling around all the time," Dr Kim says.
Yet people are being sold costly demos and clean-ups at levels just above the guideline. By people who may have done an hour-long Skype course in sample swabbing.
With no standards, a voluntary guideline, no rules for how to test, how to train, no registration, no requirement to inform anyone of the results of a test unless it's testing a P lab, this is an industry where the risk people will be exploited is high.
Until now, meth detectors can claim they were acting in good faith and using the only guideline that exists. Dr Kim says they're probably doing the best they can under the circumstances.
Even now, some may say well, better safe than sorry. You might as well spend the money. You've got kids, haven't you? It's peace of mind.
The price of peace of mind can be very high. Anxious hours waiting for test and re-test, round after round of chemical clean up. Awkward conversations with the bank to stack tens even hundreds of thousands of dollars on to your mortgage. Moving out, throwing stuff out, wondering if it's really clean and wondering if they did the job right.
The first NZ P lab was discovered in 1996.
Our authorities have had plenty of warning. We deserve better.
We shouldn't be waiting another 12 months to see what standards they'll set.
By now we should have answers, backed by good science, for the questions people have.
How much methamphetamine residue have you really found? Should I really worry about that? What can I do if I need to clean it up?
Nearly half a billion dollars' worth of P washed up on our shores this week. Vigilant locals made sure police dealt with that to keep an awful, addictive and dangerous drug off the streets.
But what about the P that has made it into homes and rental properties, and the traces that linger?
The government has left us in the dark about that, fending for ourselves. That is disturbing.