Colorado has strict standards for how to clean up a former meth lab.
An often costly and extensive process, it requires professional crews to carry out the cleaning, followed by testing and certification by an industrial hygienist. Only then can the owners, whether they sell or rent it, be freed from claims of damages from people who might become sick from leftover contamination.
Which all sounds great, except that these eight-year-old standards are widely unenforced.
In El Paso County alone, well over 300 properties are listed on the meth-lab registry, meaning they're unmitigated and still considered public health nuisances. As the Independent found last year (see "Toothless," cover story, Oct. 27, 2011), many are occupied anyway.
What's more, a home that's been "cleaned" isn't necessarily guaranteed to be safe. Crews doing mitigation work and testing are not licensed by the state, and when they're done, no governmental entity locally reviews their work ("We are taking it at face value," News, Nov. 10).
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Denver, targets that second scenario. The amended SB12-162 would allow the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to set training and certification requirements for contractors cleaning houses and industrial hygienists certifying the work. All will have to undergo supervised training and be licensed by the state, with licensing fees funding the state's work.
As put by Colleen Brisnehan, environmental protection specialist with the state, SB12-162 would ensure that "for the very first time we'll actually have authority to ensure people are cleaning up these labs correctly." (Local agencies, such as El Paso County Public Health, could also opt to assume oversight responsibility in lieu of the state.)
Caoimhín Connell, a Colorado Department of Law-certified forensic hygienist, calls the legislation "long overdue." Connell has worked in the aftermath of meth labs for decades, and co-authored the state rules.
"We've had this standard for years," he says. "Now it's time to take it seriously."
The pace of meth-lab seizures has slowed quite a bit. In 2002, more than 100 labs were busted in El Paso County. Last year, there was one.
But many of these older labs were likely never cleaned, or not cleaned to state standards, says Connell. And while the bill won't directly target these properties, if the contamination is rediscovered, through a sale or a complaint to the authorities, then they would have to be cleaned under the regulations established by the bill.
As an example, he gives a hypothetical home where a meth lab was busted in 2006. The owner of the property hired an industrial hygienist to test and mitigate it; the hygienist performed inadequate work, and certified it clean. That house gets sold, and sold again today. If the buyer has the house tested and it comes back positive for contamination, the original seller — even if he thought the work was legitimate — would be liable.
Connell, a vocal critic of people in his industry who he feels do shoddy work, is a supporter, as is Brisnehan.
"The folks who are doing the right thing," she says, "are always happy to have some regulation to get rid of the folks who aren't."
The bill made its way through its first committee unanimously, and on Tuesday, went before the Finance Committee. The result of that hearing was unclear as of press time.