Meth Crime Increase in Missoula Means Booming Business For Some
Meth-related crime in Missoula saw a sharp increase in 2015. Drug-related crimes now account for 20 percent of all crimes prosecuted in Missoula County this past year.
NBC Montana reports officer Eric McClean of the Missoula Police Department's drug task force enforcement team calls the rise an "epidemic."
NBC Montana spoke with a man who makes a living on cleaning up the mess.
Lee Yelin works for Water Rights Incorporated by day, but spends half his time cleaning houses after they have been contaminated by methamphetamine or meth labs.
He said, in his experience, he has found meth, needles, chemistry books and equipment. He added that an employee found a bunch of needles in a light fixture.
With Missoula County methamphetamine-related cases on the rise, Yelin has been busy.
"We used to do one to two a year. I had one employee that took care of them; now it's 40 percent of my business, and I have four certified cleanup contractors," Yelin said.
When Yelin and his team clean a contaminated house, they gut everything -- doors, windows, light fixtures, appliances and anything made of wood.
Yelin said such a deep clean is necessary because "meth residue, either from smoking or from a lab is very strong. It's like tobacco and it just sits there like an oil base."
They spent numerous hours in the crawl space of one house. When they're exposed to such dangerous chemicals, it's important for the team to wear protective gear including coveralls, protective eye gear, heavy-duty gloves and respirators.
Yelin said the worst part is most property owners don't even know methampetamine traces could be in their household.
"Every property that I've gone into in this past year except for one came up positive for meth," Yelin said about his inspections last year.
So what should you do if you fear your property is at risk?
"What I recommend to any real estate agent, to any prospective buyer or seller, is to test your house before it goes on the market if you're the seller. If you're the buyer, test a property, especially if it's ever been used as a rental, because we are finding almost every property I go into is contaminated with meth," said Yelin.
While meth contamination testing is cheap -- about $50 -- meth remediation is not.
"It's all the duct work, furnaces come out, purchasing new appliances, that's thousands of dollars," he said.
Yelin's current house repair cost the homeowner over $20,000. It's also a lengthy process.
"Once a property is contaminated we need to contact DEQ for approval to sample, approval to clean, and then third-party clearance, which is a neutral party to come in and sample to make sure it's clean. Then DEQ will give them a certificate of fitness and remove the property from the contaminated list."
Yelin said once he and his crew come through, the property is as good as new. The trouble is, with the increase in meth cases, he may be hard pressed to keep up with the demand.
Even those who do get their properties cleaned still run a risk. Yelin said when meth users leave one contaminated property, they bring all of their contaminated belongings to the next place infecting that one. He is advocating the city to put known meth users on a national database list to prevent them from renting low-income housing in the future.