Could you be living near a meth lab, or worse, be about to purchase a home that was once used as a meth lab – and not even realize it?

Increasingly, meth labs are not limited to low-income communities. In fact, meth labs have recently been discovered in many middle class neighborhoods. A meth lab not only brings down property values, but it could be leaking dangerous chemicals into the soil and air.

For every pound of meth that is produced, seven pounds of chemical waste are left behind. This chemical waste can cause serious health problems, including skin irritation, long-term liver and kidney damage, neurological damage, respiratory problems, and an increased risk for cancer.

Signs you may be living near a meth lab include:

Black Smoke

  • Strong odors. These odors may smell like ammonia, ether, acetone or cat urine; ask trusted neighbors if they, too, have noticed these smells. These odors are the result of using dangerous chemicals, including sulfuric acid, to cook meth.

  • Blacked-out windows. Be alert for neighbors who black out windows using aluminum foil, blankets or plywood; these are all signs that suspicious activity is going on inside the house.

  • Black smoke. On a hot summer day, there’s virtually no reason for black smoke to be pouring from a chimney – unless the home is a meth lab. Notify the police immediately so they can take prompt action to catch the perpetrator in production with his paraphernalia.

  • Suspicious trash. Keep an eye out for numerous antifreeze containers, drain cleaner, duct tape, lantern fuel cans and coffee filters that have been stained red.

How to Avoid Buying a Former Meth Lab

To minimize the odds of purchasing a former meth lab, first check the DEA’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register. This register lists every known former meth lab, so you can cross-reference these addresses with potential properties. Another option for buyers is to check the home’s property deed at the county clerk’s office. Some states require meth labs to be registered by local law officers.

Even if there are no visible signs or a record of meth production at the property, buyers in areas of high meth use should still test the home. A basic meth lab testing kit sells for around $50; should results be positive, a professional meth lab screening costs between $500 and $700.

When buying property, be wary of cheap foreclosures that are sold “as is”, especially in communities with known meth activity. Even if the home itself was not a former meth lab, meth users could still have lived in the house, and may have even created a mini-lab to feed their addiction.

When meth users lose their home, the property is often trashed and abandoned, and then sold by the bank at foreclosure for a rock bottom price. If a home’s price seems too good to be true, there’s a reason for this.

Federal law requires a meth lab to be properly cleaned by workers wearing HAZMAT suits before the home can legally be sold. However, if the real estate agent or bank legitimately is not aware that the home was once used as a meth lab, then it’s possible to legally sell the house and never have it cleaned. As a potential buyer and community member, you must be vigilant.