The Big Business Of Cleaning Up Tennessee’s Meth Homes

The Big Business Of Cleaning Up Tennessee’s Meth Homes

By McCarton Ackerman 01/06/14

The state has managed to turn lemons into lemonade by contracting companies to clean up its tens of thousands of meth labs.

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Tennessee has the nation’s worst meth addiction problem, but it’s somewhat morbidly turned into big business for companies that clean up meth homes. State officials say there are tens of thousands of meth labs throughout Tennessee, resulting in a surge of cleanup contractors that deal with properties when a bad batch explodes or police shut it down after a raid. Depending on the size of the home and the amount of contamination, it can cost up to $25,000 to restore a former meth home back to normal. 

Making the homes safe requires hiring a certified contractor to remove and replace all the contaminated materials that could include walls, carpeting, and air conditioning vents. Industrial hygienists also must test how much meth is in the home initially, as well as whether it needs more cleaning or is ready to be lived in after the repair. The latter step is particularly crucial because exposure to meth can cause respiratory problems.

However, most home insurance policies don’t cover meth cleanup and homeowners are often unwilling to shell out the money themselves, so they don’t get cleaned for years and leave residents exposed to harmful chemicals. Even if a cleanup contractor is hired, it’s not necessarily a guarantee they will do their job properly. "We are aware that contractors may run the entire scope, from very good to terrible, and we are evaluating," said Dan Hawkins, head of the state's meth remediation office in Knoxville. He also confirmed that the state may start training people to oversee and evaluate cleanups.

The most egregious case of cleanup mismanagement last year went to hygienist Douglas McCasland, who allegedly contracted with homeowners to clean their properties, then illegally certifying the homes were safe to live in when they hadn’t been properly cleaned. He has pleaded not guilty to the federal fraud charges against him and awaits trial in June.