WAKE COUNTY (WTVD) -- You might think the law would require people selling a home in which methamphetamine was cooked up, to disclose that information to potential buyers, but you'd be wrong. That's not the case in the Tar Heel State.
"North Carolina has typically been what's called a caveat emptor state," said Legal Counsel and Director of Regulatory Affairs for the North Carolina Real Estate Commission, Janet Thoren. "That means buyer beware. There's been a lot of chipping away at that over the years. The disclosure form that's currently in place is one of those chips in the buyer beware method of purchasing homes."
Home sellers are required to fill out a lengthy disclosure form, as well as another form for oil and gas, but Thoren said sellers can "opt out" of all disclosures by asserting "no representation" on that form.
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That includes homes in which meth was made, even if there are lingering health risks. Brokers and Realtors are subject to stricter disclosure rules but it's sellers who provide them the information.
North Carolina's Disclosure Law
"I will not be surprised if there are people that do not know (the history of their home)," said Thoren. She was quick to answer when asked if buyers should be made aware of a home's history with meth. "They should know."
In North Carolina, banks also don't have to disclose if a home was used to make meth after foreclosures. Thoren said this, too, should change.
"Most meth houses, or former meth houses, have, from what I've seen, gone into foreclosure and are being sold as part of a foreclosure sale by the bank where no disclosures are required," she said. "Depending on how the transaction goes through, they are exempt from the law."
Former North Carolina meth houses
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) tracks so-called homes that were formerly meth labs and makes the information public on the National Clandestine Laboratory Register.
The DEA describes it's database this way: "It contains addresses of some locations where law enforcement agencies reported they found chemicals or other items that indicated the presence of either clandestine drug laboratories or dumpsites."
Interactive map of former meth houses in Wake County
Experts said small amounts of chemicals can contaminate surfaces, drains, sinks, ventilation systems, and absorbent materials: such as couches, carpets, beds, etc.
People can be exposed to toxins simply by breathing, touching surfaces that are contaminated, eating or drinking from glasses or dishes that have layers of contaminated grime, or eating or smoking after their hands came in contact with contaminated areas.
Problems from exposure may include difficulty breathing or respiratory irritation, skin and eye irritation, headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
High exposure - even for a short time - can cause death or severe lung damage and skin or throat burns. Experts warn that children are particularly at risk.
There are two basic approaches to testing for meth residue:
1. Learn if it's present
2. Determine the extent and location of the contamination
If a homeowner wants to know if meth residue is present, home test kits can be helpful. These are usually instant tests that do not need to be sent to a lab for results.
The test kits often include collection papers that are rubbed on multiple surfaces. A chemical is then dripped onto the collection papers, and a color change indicates the presence of methamphetamine, amphetamine, or ecstasy.
Professionals, such as industrial hygienists, handle the other kind of testing. Those kits are expensive and have to be returned to the lab for analysis. The most sensitive tests require overnight, cold shipping both ways.
You can also test yourself, or your kids, for meth that has been ingested from contact with contaminated surfaces. Experts said saliva tests are accurate, easy to use, and only take about five minutes.
Experts said the first thing homeowners should do to clean up an area exposed to methamphetamine is to contact a professional contractor. Short of that, here are some steps experts suggest:
- Before entering the property, put on personal protective equipment such as gloves, protective clothing, and eye protection. Respirators that offer protection against vapors are recommended
Air out the property for three to five days
- One of the first thing professional cleanup crews will do is make sure the area is aired out for the safety of the removal crew. After that, good ventilation should continue until the cleanup is finished
Clean all surfaces that may be contaminated
- Walls, counters, floors, and ceilings can hold contamination, especially where the preparation and cooking took place or chemicals were stored. This could include removal or replacement of wallboard, floor coverings or counters. If this is not possible, intensive cleaning, followed by a physical barrier such as paint, linoleum, or epoxy should be used
Clean ventilation systems/filters
- The ventilation system should be cleaned; new furnace filters should be installed. HVAC systems can collect fumes and dust and redistribute them throughout a home, contaminating ducts, ductwork, filters, and even walls and ceilings near the ductwork. Replace all of the air filters in the system, open and clean vents, clean the surfaces near system inlets. and clean the system's ductwork
Don't neglect the pipes
- Plumbing can also be contaminated from waste products being poured into drains and toilets. These can collect in the pipes, traps, and septic tanks and give off fumes
Throw cleaning materials out after use
- All clothing, shoes, gloves, rags, and anything that came in contact with contamination should be removed before leaving the house. Dispose of it with the other household items that require disposal in a landfill
When in doubt, call a professional
- If odor or staining remains, have your home evaluated by a professional
Join ABC11's Jon Camp and Janet Thoren, legal counsel for the North Carolina Real Estate Commission for a chat on meth homes for sale and your rights to know as a buyer.