Businesses hit hard by meth testing

Tim Shriver Jr. of CDEX Inc. uses a high-tech scanning device to check for traces of meth in a vechicle that was purchased from O&J Sales car lot. Due to recent lab results, county health officials now doubt the effectiveness of the device.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Tim Shriver Jr. of CDEX Inc. uses a high-tech scanning device to check for traces of meth in a vechicle that was purchased from O&J Sales car lot. Due to recent lab results, county health officials now doubt the effectiveness of the device.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

While the health and environmental dangers posed by methamphetamine labs are well known, health experts are just starting to realize the mounting problems with heavy meth use contaminating homes and cars, possibly putting unsuspecting people at risk.

On North Whidbey, a few business people are learning the high cost of cleaning up after methamphetamine smoke.

The owner of a used car lot will likely have to pay for testing of dozens of vehicles. Those cars that test positive for meth will either have to be cleaned by a certified company or simply disposed of. Unfortunately, a high-tech gadget that may have saved the owner thousands of dollars in testing didn’t work right.

Oak Harbor business people own a mobile home on North Whidbey that will be destroyed because of suspected meth contamination caused by renters. Across the road, a lot is empty after Wells Fargo foreclosed on the owner, then ended up having to completely demolish and haul away two meth-contaminated mobile homes.

“This has cost the corporation thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Oak Harbor Realtor Pete Rivera, who is dealing with the property for the bank. “Wells Fargo is taking a bath on this one.”

Marie Piper, an environmental health specialist with the Island County Health Department, is in charge of testing for the dangerous drug at suspected sites. She said enclosed spaces, such as cars and houses, can become contaminated from meth labs or meth smoking, or as is often the case, both. The substance is sticky and difficult to remove, which makes the clean-up process expensive.

While health experts agree that meth exposure is a health risk, Piper said there is no consensus on what level of contamination is safe. The state standard is 0.1 micrograms per 100 centimeters squared.

Piper temporarily shut down O&J Sales, a car lot on Goldie Road, early last month after tests showed extreme levels of meth contamination in the office building, as well as lower levels in several cars. The building tested at 5,200 times the standard.

Health officials tested the dealership after the manager, Nolan Brown, was arrested and charged with possession of meth.

Piper said she hoped to save the owner, Mark Brown, money in the expensive testing by bringing in CDEX Inc., an Arizona company that makes a meth-testing scanner device. But Piper said the scanner apparently didn’t work properly. It showed meth was present in 14 of the cars on the site. To check the results, the health department also swabbed the cars and sent the samples to a lab for testing. The results showed that only five of the samples were positive.

“Now we don’t know if the negatives were really negatives,” Piper said, explaining that dozens of cars will have to be tested the expensive way. “The scanner would have saved the owner a lot of money.”

Last month, Oak Harbor resident Mark Brown, who's not related to the sheriff, explained that he started the car business to help his troubled son. Nolan was doing a great job until meth got the best of him, Brown said.

Now the cost of cleaning and testing may spell the end of the lot.

“It may cost us the business,” he said. “It’s a tremendous cost.”

In addition, Piper said she’ll contact three people who brought in the cars they purchased at the lot for testing and tell them the results weren’t reliable.

On Stellar Lane on North Whidbey, a meth-related neighborhood nightmare is almost over. The saga began last summer when Wells Fargo foreclosed on a woman’s home. She, her ailing mother and her boyfriend moved to an adjacent wooded lot, where they lived in a tiny camping trailer.

After a few weeks, the family moved into a trailer home across the street. Earlier this year, they were evicted from the home.

Piper said she caught wind of the situation last year and required Wells Fargo to test the home for meth. The tests came back “hot,” she said, so the bank was forced to do a costly clean up. Workers crushed all the structures on site and carted them away. Rivera said some of the dirt even had to be removed.

“It was thousands of dollars in just testing,” he said. He admits to being frustrated with the continued testing, but he said the bank will do what it takes to make the Health Department happy.

For now, the lot is completely vacant and the adjacent woods have been cleaned out. But the property across the street is a different matter.

Piper said the owners of the single-wide trailer decided not to do the expensive testing, but the clean-up is being run as if it is a contaminated site. The home will be demolished.

Piper said the home was so stuffed with junk that it would have been difficult to find a surface to test.

Last week, crews started cleaning up the yard surrounding the mobile home. An excavator piled junk in giant piles and moved a number of broken cars hidden beneath the trash.

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