LYNNWOOD, Wash. - You can watch Walter White on television -- you may even find yourself rooting for him -- but you want to avoid him in real life. And there are far more meth cooking want-to-be chemists out there than you may realize.
It's not always easy to determine where they live, that is, until you accidentally find yourself moving into their old digs. And they've been in a lot of neighborhoods.
"It's a huge problem right now," says Theresa Borst of state certified BioClean. But she also promises, “If it's here, I’m going to find it.”
BioClean is certified by the state to test for meth contamination. They find it in surprising places, like the beautifully remodeled Lynnwood home Ryan Appell and his wife put an offer on this year.
“It looked like a great new house. Somebody had really gone in there, taken care of it, cleaned it up,” he explained about the remodeled kitchen, floors, and just about everything else you could see.
“It was take your shoes off, don’t come into this home - it was that beautiful.”
But then Appell’s would-be neighbor described a far different past at that same home. He raised a red flag about the previous occupants.
“I think he actually even used the phrase, ‘I think they might have been meth heads or something,’” said Appell.
That is when Appell gave BioClean a call. Theresa Borst says her crews go into any home they test and ferret out areas that usually don’t get remodeled—the places where there is no “lipstick on the pig.”
As she samples, she can pick up particles temporarily covered by new paint or drywall. That’s especially important, she explains, because meth molecules are smaller than paint molecules, so they may not be detectable at first, but she warns, “It's going to continue to leech out over a period of time.”
The Washington Health Department sets guidelines for when a cleanup is necessary to make a home livable. The level must be no higher than .10. Testing on the home Appell was about to buy came back at 30 -- 300 times the limit.
“We saw that and it was like, ‘No way. We can't live there without risking serious health issues,’” said Appell.
Borst was not at all surprised to hear that the home had been bought at auction and remodeled. She says that’s often the back story of the homes she tests.
“There's a lot of foreclosures, there's a lot of short sales,” she explained. “People are going in and buying these homes cheap on the dollar -- they're remodeling them, flipping them -- they may not know the drug use in there was meth.”
And the incidents aren’t limited to remodeled homes.
Jade Winslow-Fuentez was in the process of moving with her asthmatic 3-year-old into the Enchanted Woods Apartments in Federal Way.
Management told her it was clean and ready to go.
But then she started feeling sick when she was in the process of moving in.
“Dizzy spells. There were times when I was disorientated. My breathing started to get really bad,” said Winslow-Fuentez.
Similar to Appell’s experience, Winslow-Fuentez was warned by neighbors about the previous tenants and their drug use. Winslow-Fuentez looked more closely at the unit and noticed corrosion on metal in strange places -- closet runners, door hinges, and other places where normal water use was not an explanation. It’s a telltale sign of meth, especially when there is green corrosion.
Again -- Theresa Borst and BioClean went in. This time, test results showed it was 100 times over the limit. Winslow-Fuentez did not hesitate to get her son out, especially with his health issues.
“It causes cancer, it causes ADD, it causes all kinds of problems -- respiratory problems. If you can't breathe, you can't live,” said Winslow-Fuentez.
Borst says the risk has ballooned with the housing collapse. Before that, she says Bio Clean got three to five calls per year for testing.
Now they get five to 10 a week.
Testing isn't cheap -- it starts in the hundreds of dollars.
But Appell will tell you, it can definitely pay off.
“Yes! Yes, we did (dodge a bullet). A big bullet,” said Appell.
Borst says it could have easily cost Appell in the tens of thousands of dollars to have the necessary cleaning and replacement work done to make the house livable. Appell says that would have bankrupted him.
So if you're moving, BioClean suggests -- even if the place looks great -- check with the folks next door. Borst says they’re your best early and free test.
“Your neighbors -- let me tell you, if something's going on --Mrs. Kravitz, she's going to tell you,” said Borst.
And then, Borst will be waiting for your call-- among all the others.