There is no risk to human health from third hand exposure to houses where methamphetamine has been consumed. That is the conclusion of a report released last week by the Government's chief scientific advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman.
In speaking to the report he said, "There is absolutely no evidence in the medical literature of anyone being harmed from passive use, at any level. We can't find one case…Mould is more dangerous than meth."
The report concludes, "In the absence of clear scientific and health information, there has been an assumption among the general public that the presence of even trace levels of methamphetamine residue poses a health risk…This situation is largely unique to New Zealand – in other countries methamphetamine investigations focus mainly on identifying meth labs (or former labs), and remediating them when found. Non-meth lab contamination generally does not lead to any particular consideration or action. The question thus emerges, is the New Zealand approach over-precautionary or appropriate?"
The answer to that is clearly yes, the current threshold levels are over-precautionary, and no, the approach is not appropriate.
The report goes on to say, testing is not warranted in most cases and is only warranted where a site is suspected of being used to manufacture meth or where the use has been very heavy. It recommends the threshold level for further room by room testing and decontamination should be 15μg/100cm not the current standard of 1.5 µg/100 cm.
As it happens, the Gluckman report states manufacturing is less prevalent than one may think. "The number of confirmed meth labs detected has been decreasing in recent years. Seventy-four meth labs were identified in 2016 of which 50 were rental properties and four were Housing New Zealand properties. This may reflect a preference for obtaining fully synthesised methamphetamine from overseas rather than manufacturing locally."
In response to the recommendations in the report, Housing Minister Phil Twyford said, “In December 2017 I commissioned Sir Peter to assess all the available scientific and medical literature about the risks of exposure to meth residue…I was concerned at the time, and I remain so, that there has been some anxiety about meth contamination, and a testing and remediation industry has grown up around this…There has been a widely held perception that the presence of even low levels of meth residue in a house poses a health risk to occupants. As a result, remediation to eliminate contamination has been an extremely costly business for landlords and an upheaval for tenants being evicted at short notice."
He said changes to the meth regulations will be included in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2) which is soon to have its second reading in the House, and a public consultation document on meth regulations will be released later this year. He expects new standards to be in place within the next year.
Housing New Zealand is not waiting around for the new legislation. There are reported to be some 200 state houses empty because of "contamination" issues. These will be put back into use immediately. HNZ has spent $100m on testing and remediation in the last four years and is expected to save $30m a year as a result of their changes.
If Housing NZ is changing its policy as of now, then so too should private sector landlords and property managers. Far too much money has been wasted by landlords being forced to comply with a testing regime designed to deal with a problem that in most cases does not exist.
I have written previously about the rorting that has gone on in the testing industry. In January I raised concerns about cowboy operators and cited an example of one house being tested by two different companies. One said it was clean with no traces of meth, the other said it was contaminated with a recorded level of 7.62, well above the 1.5μg/100cm2 standard. They recommended further testing - at a cost of $1,322.50!
Quite understandably the meth' testing companies are not happy. One testing company fired out a press release in response to Prof' Gluckman's report, implying the report had been influenced by Minister Twyford who, they say, is primarily motivated by the housing shortage.
The Minister is to be congratulated for addressing this issue from a scientific perspective, and bringing some common sense to the table. And Housing NZ should be congratulated for responding now and not waiting for the new regulations to catch up with reality. Private landlords should now do the same:
· - Only test where a meth lab or heavy use is suspected, and
· - Use > 15μg/100cm2 as the new standard for further more specific testing.
The meth testing and decontamination racket is now at an end. Amen to that.
Frank Newman, an investment analyst and former councillor on the Whangarei District Council, writes a weekly article for Property Plus.