New Zealand: Meth: some certainty in the haze, for contaminated properties

A new standard - NZS 8510:2017 - brings some clarity to testing and decontamination of methamphetamine contaminated properties.

Methamphetamine; meth; "P"; "ice". Whatever you call it, meth is having a significant impact on New Zealand communities. It does not discriminate between race, gender, age or class, and it is becoming a strain on our health and justice systems. In September 2016, the Government announced a $15 million boost for anti-drug initiatives acknowledging that meth has now become the "drug of choice" in New Zealand.

The manufacture and use of meth is also causing substantial property damage. In October 2016, Housing New Zealand - the country's largest landlord - indicated 1% of its 64,000 homes for vulnerable Kiwis are in the process of being remediated because of meth.

Who is affected and what are the issues they face?

Meth-related property damage affects a diverse range of other stakeholders in the property industry, including residential and commercial landlords, property managers, real estate agents, new property owners, and insurers and insurance brokers. In addition to being confronted with the distress of managing meth damage, these stakeholders are confronted by two issues:

  1. When is property contaminated by meth and is a health and safety risk? There is currently no consistency or certainty on "trigger levels". That is, there are difficulties when considering whether a property has been contaminated and also when contamination has been satisfactorily remediated.
  2. What is an appropriate method to test for meth? There is a large range of quality amongst testing entities. There is currently no scheme of accreditation or standard for these entities, and no common acceptable method of testing. It is therefore currently difficult to assess the skills and experience of a tester and the results that are being produced. With recent media focus on meth damage, meth testing has become an emerging market and new testing companies are popping up regularly. There is also potential for a "conflict" where a tester might also have an interest in remediating a property.

Fortunately, a new NZS standard has been released that seeks to address these concerns.

Consulting for a new standard (2016-2017): NZS 8510

Standards New Zealand has overseen a comprehensive review of testing and remediation of meth contamination. In 2016, a standards development committee was tasked with developing a standard to provide guidance on testing properties for contamination as well as a subsequent remediation framework. The committee comprised of 21 representatives, including ESR, testing laboratories, meth-sampling companies, local governments, Ministry of Health, the Insurance Council of New Zealand, and organisations representing real estate agents, property managers, and property investors.

The committee engaged ESR to compile a comprehensive report that assessed meth risk. ESR looked at prior research from the Ministry of Health, and also research and comparable meth standards adopted in overseas jurisdictions, notably Australia, Colorado, and California. ESR's goal was to consider meth exposure levels at or below which no adverse effects are anticipated to occur in the vast majority of the population. ESR was particularly concerned in considering effects on infants in the 6 to 24 month age group and women of child-bearing age in a residential house that was either a former lab that manufactured meth or where meth was routinely smoked. The focus on these two groups was on the risk to health through skin contact and absorption, and hand-to-mouth, particularly for crawling infants.

ESR's conclusions formed the basis of a draft standard that was released in December 2016 for public consultation. A large number of submissions were considered - the committee received over 1,250 comments from the public, many of which were adopted.

Publication of the new standard (June 2017)

The final standard was approved by the Standards Approval Board on 22 June 2017, and is known as: NZS 8510:2017 Testing and decontamination of methamphetamine-contaminated properties. The standard covers the screening, sampling, testing, and decontamination of properties that might have been contaminated as a result of the use or production of meth.

When is a property contaminated?

High-use areas

The standard uses a single level for all high-use areas of a property (areas that can be easily accessed and regularly used by adults and children) due to either production or use of meth:

Levels of meth exceeding 1.5 µg/100 cm˛ in high-use areas of a property will be regarded as contaminated.

(µg is a microgram. µg/100 cm2 means the presence of one millionth of a gram of chemical residue per 100 square centimetres.)

After decontamination, a clearance certificate will only be issued if the level of meth is 1.5 µg/100 cm2 or less.

Limited-use areas

The standard also uses a single level for limited-use areas of a property (areas that are likely to be accessed only by adults and for a short period of time, for example crawl spaces and ceiling cavities):

Levels of meth exceeding 3.8 µg/100 cm˛ in limited-use areas of a property will be regarded as contaminated.

Determining the presence of meth contamination and subsequent decontamination

The standard also provides processes for:

  1. Undertaking a "screening assessment" by a screening sampler who has completed an approved course for sample collection. This is an initial step to confirm if there is meth contamination.
  2. Undertaking a "detailed assessment" by an accredited sampler (from an accredited inspection body or accredited laboratory) if a screening assessment indicates the presence of meth. This step is used to determine the extent and magnitude of meth contamination.
  3. Decontamination where a detailed assessment indicates a property is contaminated above the limits in the standard. Decontamination contractors must demonstrate certain competencies and, importantly, must be independent from screening samplers and accredited samplers so as to avoid any potential conflict of interest.
  4. Post-decontamination actions, including a clearance report and certificate issued by an accredited sampler to certify that decontamination has been effective in reducing levels of meth to within the limits in the standard.

The expected impact of NZS 8510:2017

We consider the standard will bring an element of certainty for stakeholders:

  1. The standard provides definitive safe levels to guide testing for contamination and subsequent decontamination procedures.
  2. The standard also seeks to ensure quality and integrity of methods of sampling and testing, and subsequent certification of successful decontamination.

The standard will be voluntary. There will also be a lead-in period while competencies, including accreditation requirements and training courses, are established and implemented. Once these systems are underway, we recommend stakeholders use entities that are accredited under the standard given the greater certainty and reliability the standard seeks to provide. We also recommend that landlords, property managers, real estate agents and new property owners are proactive in identifying and managing the potential risk of meth damage, particularly by seeking screening assessments of property.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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