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Clean up: The after-problem of meth in WV

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A technician with Affordable Cleanup LLC scrubs down the walls and ceiling at the site of a meth lab. A technician with Affordable Cleanup LLC scrubs down the walls and ceiling at the site of a meth lab.
Affordable Cleanup LLC has to dispose of any objects found in the contaminated area including materials used in making meth. Affordable Cleanup LLC has to dispose of any objects found in the contaminated area including materials used in making meth.

As a landlord, Jennifer McQuerrey Rhyne knows firsthand about the methamphetamine problem in the Mountain State.

She is concerned, like many other landlords, for her rental properties.

“I was scared it would happen to me,” she said. “It hasn’t, but it still might.”

Rhyne decided to take the matter into her own hands — literally — by starting a company specializing in cleaning up meth labs across the Kanawha Valley.

Rhyne is the property manager with Real Estate Central LLC, a real estate investor with Old World Investments LLC (oldworldrentals.com) as well as, since December 2012, a Clandestine Drug Laboratory Remediation Technician with Affordable Cleanup LLC (wvmethcleanup.com).

She took a course, which cost several hundred dollars, to learn how to properly clean meth, but she doesn’t think private companies in the state training for the same thing are necessarily doing all they can.

That’s why she decided to become a trainer.

Rhyne said she will have to fork out about $1,000 to become certified, but it will be well worth it when she knows those who take her class will know what they are doing.

“There are no rules as far as how you do the cleaning,” Rhyne said. “You have to get it clean at the end, but they don’t tell you how you have to do it.”

She said it took a team made up of her, Joe McQuerrey (her father) and partners Heath Barnett and Will Champagne several months to establish their system for cleaning.

“It took us four or five months to really get good at it,” she said. “It was a painful learning curve.”

A curve they’ve now mastered, but they still never know what they’re going to come across.

Rules for cleaning

According to the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, meth lab clean-up groups must follow a remediation rule that is written into state code. This rule also requires clean-up groups to attend and pass a 16-hour Clandestine Drug Lab Remediation Technician Course along with a 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operator Course approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The drug lab remediation technician course must be given by an approved training provider.

Brandon Lewis, Clandestine Drug Laboratory Remediation Program Coordinator, said property owners, no matter what type, are required to disclose to future buyers/renters that the property contained meth contamination.

Lewis said the state does not condemn properties, but under state code, the property owner has the right to clean and demolish his or her property. If the property can’t be remediated, the only option would be demolition, he said.

Down to the nitty gritty

The Affordable Cleanup LLC group might have a method for cleaning, but team members never know what they will run into.

On a job in April, the renter said there wouldn’t be anything in the unit, but that’s not what the clean-up team discovered.

Rhyne said they usually bring a trash dumpster to discard materials, but for that particular job, the team had to settle with a pick-up truck to haul a few mattresses and other things away to the landfill.

“The only thing attached we have to take out is the vent fans,” Rhyne said. “The bathroom exhaust fan, range hood and carpeting.”

Everything has to be vacuumed, wiped down and scrubbed.

“You have to use a good bit of water,” she said. “That’s the only way to get it off. It’s a physical scrub.”

New Risks

Nestled in a quiet part of Rand, Ann Triplett has been a rental property owner for a while, but never before discovered what she did several months ago inside one unit.

Triplett hired Rhyne and her crew to come clean a rental property she owns — one where she discovered a shake and bake meth lab was being cooked by the renter.

“Now, at least twice a month I’m inspecting them,” Triplett said of her properties that include two duplexes, two single homes and some trailers.

Rhyne’s company was hired by Triplett to clean the meth-infested house. She said because the meth lab was part of the duplex she owns, the adjacent property has to pass inspections too.

“Because they are attached,” she said.

Triplett said she now is exercising more caution than she ever has. Her best advice to landlords would be to know the types of people they are letting stay in their properties.

Rhyne said when she gets a phone call asking her to begin cleaning a condemned property, the calls can come from a homeowner or landlord. She said sometimes homeowners get caught cooking meth and have to call her to clean it up because they have no choice.

“The property would be torn down,” she said.

Into her own hands

Rhyne said she has gotten into the business of training because she doesn’t think there is enough responsibility taken when testing homes. She said the same company hired to clean a meth lab is also supposed to test it.

“They don’t know where the samples are coming from,” Rhyne said. “There’s too much room for deception and fraud.”

Rhyne said she thinks companies in the state will continue to try to work around the system, as long as private companies are in charge.

“I wish the state would come in at the end of a job and they would test,” she said. “Even one random test.

“You can’t see meth — they’d have to do the physical test and send it to the lab.”

Doing a proper job on a property can take six or seven visits, Rhyne said. She said even after they clean a property many times, they collect samples and there is a possibility the samples will come back with meth detected. When the company has to go back to finish the job, Rhyne said property owners are not billed because at that point it was their mistake.

Overall, Rhyne said she hopes to be able to train more people in a proper way so those living in homes that are former “meth labs” are safe.