Many meth contaminated homes are still being lived in
(KATV) - Busts of physical meth laboratories are down across Arkansas, but the amount of homes that once housed a meth lab remains practically unchanged. The State of Arkansas maintains a list of homes where meth busts occurred, the Methamphetamine Contaminated Properties list. A KATV investigation found many of the homes listed are still being inhabited.
The list is long - 770 properties in total make up the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's list of Methamphetamine Contaminated Properties. Sixty-one of those properties lay within Pulaski County.
"When a law enforcement agency anywhere in the state makes a meth bust, they report that information to us and we maintain the list," said Katherine Benenati, spokesperson for ADEQ.
ADEQ started maintaining the list after Act 864 was passed by the Arkansas General Assembly back in 2007. Many of the properties on the list made it onto the list in 2008 and 2009 and since then, according to the list, still haven't been cleaned up. According to ADEQ it is up to the property owner to make sure the home is able to be lived in.
"It is the property owner's responsibility to clean it to an acceptable level," said Benenati. "They would need to use a certified contractor to do that."
According to the state inventory of contaminated homes, 18 properties with Little Rock mailing addresses are listed as contaminated; most are outside the city limits. Out of the 16 homes out in the county, nine of those are still being inhabited with is illegal.
The man who helped make inhabiting those homes illegal is former State Senator Shane Broadway who helped to craft Act 864.
"If they knew the things we learned about it throughout that process [of making the law] in terms of what goes into the manufacturing of methamphetamine and what residue that it leaves behind, I can't imagine why anybody would want to live in those circumstances," said Broadway.
Act 864 made living in a contaminated home a class B misdemeanor. So if it's illegal, whose responsibility is it to make sure no one's living there? ADEQ says it's not their problem.
"We're just making sure that the list is up to date," said Benenati. "That's really more of a law enforcement issue. As far as posting the properties or making sure that they are not inhabited, that is a law enforcement responsibility."
But Lt. Carl Minden, spokesperson for the Pulaski County Sheriff's office says constantly checking these homes to see if they're occupied is not a law enforcement priority. He also questions if sheriff's deputies were constantly checking and enforcing the rule, what would those officers actually be able to do?
"Even if we went over there and charged you, yes that's going to court," said Minden. "But ultimately if it ends up not being contaminated or deemed not to be contaminated by some expert and we would have evicted you, we just took you unrightfully out of your house. I don't know if we have that authority."
And Act 864 doesn't really spell that type of authority out for law enforcement or for ADEQ.
"It may be time to go back and look at what was done and how it's working or not working and see if there are things that may need to be adjusted," said Broadway.
The flaw in the law is that many of the homes on the list may not actually be contaminated. Law enforcement slaps a contamination sticker on a home they found meth production tools in whether or not meth was being produced at the time.
Still, it is up to the property owner to prove the home is contaminated or not. Homeowners have to hire a commercial contractor to come and test the home and if it is actually contaminated they need to hire one of those licensed contractors to clean it up.