Damage from the county's methamphetamine problem extends beyond addicts and their families.

Property owners who rent out houses and apartments to tenants who turn out to be meth cooks can expect to pay a five-figure sum to clean up the damage.

Astoria resident Don Haskell reported a North Coast home he rented out several years ago cost him between $20,000 and $25,000 to clean up after his tenants were busted for manufacturing meth, which can be "cooked" from chemicals found in common household products, fertilizers and medications.

The tenants had lived there only one or two days, but the damage was devastating, he said.

"The place was a god-awful mess," Haskell said, adding that the odor from toxic chemicals used to make meth was so strong it was difficult to breathe. "When you say the word 'chemical,' somebody might think of ammonia. But it was much more pungent than that. You couldn't go in the house and breathe. I don't know how those people cooking that stuff could stand it."

The oceanfront home had been in his family for 20 years when he and his wife decided to rent it out. The chemicals and residue left from the meth lab pervaded the entire house. Haskell had to throw out nearly all of the furniture and personal possessions his family kept there.

The state Department of Human Services estimates that more than half of drug labs discovered are on rental properties, and landlords are ultimately responsible for the costs of decontamination.

Because the waste left from meth labs is hazardous, property owners must hire a contractor licensed to clean up drug lab properties, according to the DHS Drug Lab Cleanup Program. In addition to payments charged by the contractor to assess and decontaminate the property, home owners must pay fees to DHS to assess the property, review the contractor's cleanup work plan, inspect the site after cleanup and issue a document marking it fit for use. Landlords also bear the loss of rent and damages to personal property.

A lab can yield up to five pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Chemical residue can remain on surfaces for years if not properly removed, and drug labs pose danger of chemical explosions if not dismantled carefully.

Haskell sold the house about one year ago. As part of a plea arrangement, his former tenants agreed to pay him back for the property's decontamination.

"I think I got one payment of about $100 and that was it," he said. "It was a pretty devastating thing. You really don't expect something like that to happen to you, but it does. Meth is a terrible problem in Clatsop County."


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