CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It is a drug that addicts call “crystal”, “ice” and “glass” and it’s making a comeback in North Carolina. After years of decline, methamphetamine busts are on the rise.
“Usually, one hit off the meth, you’re hooked,” said Sgt. Rick Hassan with the Burke County Narcotics Task Force. Burke County investigators have been aggressive in their pursuit of meth makers. They have raided 30 meth labs this year, more than any county in North Carolina.
When investigators raid a lab, they are wearing protective suits. "One breath of some of these gases, if it didn't kill you, you'd wish it had killed you. It's that bad," said Hassan.
The chemicals used to make meth are believed to cause cancer, brain damage and birth defects. Hassan said, "There's Liquid Heat, there's toluene, denatured alcohol. You’ve got Red Devil Lye, Liquid Plumber." The gas from those chemicals adheres to most everything in a house. Years after the meth lab is dismantled and the suspects go to jail, the toxic waste remains.
North Carolina law requires former meth labs to be thoroughly cleaned before anyone moves back in. But a NewsChannel 36 I-Team investigation revealed some homes are still contaminated and unsuspecting people are moving back inside.
Kala Phillips and her boyfriend live in a one-story home in Newton, North Carolina. She was unaware her home used to be a meth lab. “That’s interesting,” said Phillips. With her permission, we tested her home and discovered levels 16 times higher than what would be considered safe in states with strict cleanup laws.
More than six years ago, police discovered two meth labs in a south Charlotte townhouse. The 25-year-old meth maker was sent to prison. Byron Morant moved in with his family and said he was never told by the landlord that it used to be a meth lab.
"I have a young child that has asthma and we wouldn't have moved in here knowing that situation,” said Morant.
At the time of the bust, Mecklenburg County put out a news release that said the health department was overseeing the cleanup. Six years later, the I-Team tested 12 areas of Morant’s townhome. Lab tests confirm it is still contaminated with methamphetamine.
Morant said, "We definitely got to get out of here because our whole family is actually in danger right now, especially my young child who has the real bad asthma. So, we have to go. No ifs, ands or buts about it."
Nine months ago, Burke County deputies discovered a meth lab inside a home daycare in Morganton. Burke County Sheriff Steve Whisenant said, "When we leave, we put warning labels up. I don't know how long those may stay and I'm sure there's at least short term if not long term contamination there."
The owner of the property received a letter from the Burke County Health Department that required him to decontaminate the house before anyone else moved in. 68-year-old Brenda Jennings said she wasn’t told about the meth lab until after she moved in. Jennings told the I-Team she has “headaches all the time.”
The property owner did submit paperwork saying the home had been decontaminated. He noted that the work was done by himself. With Jennings permission, we tested the home and the lab tests revealed it still tests positive for methamphetamine.
Sergeant Hassan issued a warning to anyone thinking about living in a former meth lab house. "I know what goes into this stuff. I know what it does to a person. I know what it does to their body. I wouldn't. To me, it's once an environmental hazard, always an environmental hazard.”
To find out if you are living in a former meth lab, check the DEA’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register.