Inside the seedy underbelly of our toxic meth houses
"IT IS the asbestos of the 20th century".
That is Mark Jarvis's description of meth, after spending the past two years cleaning houses in the Central Queensland region that have had the illicit substance cooked in them.
Mr Jarvis has spent $7500 on training and tickets, $30,000 on equipment and each clean costs between $2500 and $3000 for products which are shipped from New Zealand.
In the past two years, he has cleaned five meth 'cook lab' homes in the CQ region.
Cleaning a house exposed to meth is a costly exercise that falls back on the home owner's shoulders or in the case of Department of Housing properties, the government.
The owner of Moonshiners Cleaning undertook meth remediation training two years ago after he became ill for 40 hours from cleaning a meth-affected house for one hour.
At the time, Mr Jarvis was not aware the house had previously had meth cooked in it and it was not until he and his workers had violent headaches and were outside vomiting, he questioned why.
When he found out it was due to the toxins of meth cooking, Mr Jarvis did not think twice about going to Melbourne to be formally trained in meth remediation.
"It's for the health of my myself and my workers, keeping us safe… (it) gives us security," he said.
What most people do not realise is properties that have had meth cooked in them need to be completely stripped.
Carpets have to be removed, walls stripped, fans removed and if meth or any associated poisons have been cooked in the oven, it needs to be removed along with toilet systems, doors and laundry sinks.
If the kitchen cupboards are melamine, they have to be replaced as they are porous.
Mr Jarvis said those cooking drugs could use any kind of home from a high class house, a low income property or a private rental.
"There is no one fit for all, they are just average places that have been ruined and trashed," he said.
"Whoever owns them is spending a fortune to get them cleaned and fixed.
"They are dirty, not well maintained because it's been ruined by cooking meth, destroyed kitchens and houses.
"They are much like any other grubby house you go into.
"Only there is an odour to them. You can't really explain what it is but you can tell they have been cooking.
"Smoking and using the drug doesn't really affect the house, it's cooking."
Mr Jarvis said it could also be anyone doing it.
"It can be any one person in society cooking because you can go to Bunnings and spend $600 on chemicals and earn $3500 by cooking meth," he said.
When doing his week-long training Mr Jarvis had to study a 270-page book and when tested, he was only allowed to get two questions wrong.
He has an extensive knowledge of meth and the poisons used to cook it.
"The problems is in the chemicals they are using - lithium out of batteries, rat poison, lighter fluid, ammonia, bleach... any poisonous chemicals they will use to cook with," he said.
Mr Jarvis said the biggest misconception about meth cleaning is that people should use bleach, when in fact it should never be used. He said bleach was acid based, as were the drugs, so all you are doing is washing acid on top of acid.
"It's increasing the volume of poisons and toxins in the paint so you are making it stronger, not getting rid of it," he said.
He said you cannot paint over toxins because paint is porous and what is in there will seep back through.
"It's like mould, if you paint over the top of it, the mould will keep coming back, poison will do the same thing," he said.
The effects of living in a house that has had a meth lab in it can be fatal and for that reason, Mr Jarvis and his employees have to be fully kitted up to enter a meth remediation property.
They wear a full face mark and suit which is chemical and water resistant, wellington steel cap boots which are duct taped at the top so nothing seeps in, along with duct taped gloves with another pair over the top.
A meth remediation house can take around a week to clean and every time Mr Jarvis and his team leaves and re-enters the property, they have to replace the filters in their face masks, which cost about $150 each.
The cleaners go through a rigorous process of scrubbing, rinsing at 500psi and foaming and misting with a fogging machine.
What concerns Mr Jarvis the most is the drug producers cooking the meth are risking the lives of their loved ones.
"Their partners and children are in the same house and they are poisoning their own family, killing their family to make an easy dollar," he said.
Mr Jarvis said real estate agents and councils also had some questions to answer when it came to reporting suspected houses.
"It's going to take someone to get sick in one or die from it because someone is trying to cover it and then maybe they will do something about it," he said.
Mr Jarvis has had his cleaning business for 18 years and said it ha only been in the past few years the drugs issue has worsened.
Years ago he would have only found 12 syringes in a house. Recently he found 485 syringes, which took seven painstaking hours to remove, as each one has to be bagged individually.
Mr Jarvis estimated he would find used syringes in one in every five houses he cleaned.
"It's a big social problem and it is going to get worse… it needs to be addressed," he said.
"You could pick up a piece of clothing that has a used syringe in it and you could get stabbed. We always find a form of drug paraphernalia.
"It's going to be an ongoing problem, there is no easy fix.
"You destroy one meth lab house and another one pops up. It's the asbestos of the 20th century, it's dangerous."
Mr Jarvis said if you suspect a house has had meth cooked in it, get a test. Tests cost around $550, at the cost of the homeowner, and Mr Jarvis can do it himself and get an instant response.
"Demand a test before you move in because you are going to endanger your health by moving into something if it hasn't been cleaned," he said.
"If you put a child or people in there, that child can die from the toxins."