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Oh. They're really ready. For the people who live in this neighborhood. It's like watching the science fiction movies. But it's a scene that's repeated two or three times a week in one Oregon neighborhood or another heavily protected by police and fire teams must face the unknown as they walk inside ordinary looking houses. But this house has been used as an illegal laboratory for manufacturing methamphetamines and these guys aren't sure exactly what chemicals they'll find flammable explosive toxic chemicals. Most of us assume that once the chemicals are gone the danger is over but that may not be true. People are walking inside these houses every day sometimes without knowing. There may be harmful chemical residues still inside and the same professionals who
themselves won't go in unprotected are not always warning people like you and me. Tonight. A Front Street weekly special report cleaning house. Oregon's meth lab crisis. Oregon is facing an urgent public health and safety problem with illegal drug labs. Right now we're ranked number two in the nation because police have reported finding more methamphetamine labs here than anywhere except California. That in itself is reason for concern. What we discovered as we researched and shot this report is that after police leave the scene there may still be danger inside these houses. Realtors won't list them. Building inspectors won't go near them. Few health departments are willing to post warnings on them. We learned how the system works and how it doesn't work. Just from watching what happened with this house in Southeast Portland. It's a neighborhood full of children riding bikes skateboarding walking
along the sidewalk in front of the house where ten days before we'd watch the hazardous materials team removing jars and jugs of chemicals between their two families. Cindy wake and Lori Allison have four children and they'd all known about the drug lab long before police arrived on the scene it was a day that I walked by and there was a man sitting in a car outside the house when. This shooting happened. This is where you find out about I find insulin syringes my son Trevor that you met he came down he came up to me with two burns as an a syringe in a plastic bag and said Mom what's this for. And that scared me to death on the stand. From her large living room window. Cindy wake was in an ideal position to see everything that went on outside that house and said she provides day care for several children. She was there to see it. She had begun to worry when she saw cars pulling up in front of the house across the street at all times of the day and night cars lining up drivers taking turns going to the
door staying for a few minutes and leaving. Much as you'd watch customers at a bank or fast food restaurant you could just tell because. Of the. The traffic pattern the way people went over there she would come on the porch and make change instead of making a change on the porch nobody stayed in there were men and shelves met every bed the door one of the boys the older boys that lives in the house next door had seen into the basement seeing test tubes and things like that we had seen them dumping chemicals outside of their house and it started to bother me a lot when I saw her kid over there too because I could keep thinking is you know she's already screwed herself up and you know exposed herself and I know her child was only 12 and he's a twin. So now if you're wondering why Cindy and Lori didn't call the police all while this was going on they say they did. So you're saying that the city of Portland should have known that something they didn't know they didn't know. And that I mean and then. What happened. It all was dead ended it just dead ended. It just
seems like everything got lost. You know and so we've come back and they'd say Oh. Because there was more license numbers out of how many times I heard that. Write down and send US license numbers. They didn't want to listen to the things that we've seen and heard the same thing because we didn't have any complaints and the. Drug and vice versa in this house. No complaints on this house. They had they they might have been calling the neighborhood association or. Somebody else. But maybe the precincts in the precincts weren't. Getting his information. With his house and not been targeted but if it called 9 1 1 you know they have to call the 7 1 6 3 2 4 6 0 they have to call that specific again by starvation. Yeah well how would an individual know to call the number it's on the news all the time crime stoppers and. Oh well that some people know how because we get 500 calls a month but then Detective Jim Ballard checked through police records and he found one complaint about this house.
Two years ago one of the neighbors noticed a peculiar odor. So Bella said he had come by to check it out. We drove by Rock the sidewalk and didn't smell anything. Without a search warrant he says there was nothing he could do. But on July 4th 1988 grace may have had the perfect opportunity to make an arrest. And that's the day that Lori and Cindy say they watched their strange neighbors move out and they had a hand truck and they will doubt. Compressed tanks of some something I don't know what they were in the tanks but they were about four feet tall and they had gauges they had you know plastic osing they had you know flask in the other thing that's really suspicious as they carried out probably about six to nine big you know the big Rubbermaid garbage barrels with a locking plastic lid and they carried those out with gloves when they did and they wore gloves when they did it. You called Drugs narcotic division but got no answer so I don't know if they're
close to the holidays or what. She's right. Bella told me that the drugs and vice squad is off on holidays. Let them. Take it. Anywhere with anybody. Exactly 1 month later police finally arrived on the scene not to make an arrest. The meth cooks had already left evicted by the landlord for not paying rent. The only evidence remaining was leftover chemicals and a few fingerprints. Now the suspicions of neighbors like Lori and Cindy had drawn all this attention. It was a call from the landlord's daughter after she'd been inside to clean the house for a new tenant. That brought the hazardous materials truck down to her small or medium or are you. Saying the precautions they took to even walk in the house. Is really intimidating when you've lived across the street for three years and. Your kids have ridden their bikes they run by barefoot they you know really if they protected themselves I saw them double and triple layered and taped at the wrist so no
skin was showing. They're paid to protect us. And yet all these neighbors see is the protection the police are providing for themselves. They let the yellow stripes tape across the front of house as a caution but to a 4 year old kid the word caution means nothing I can read what that is like you know there says Come up here and play. Police Officer Jim Bella is the only person in Portland assigned full time to the methamphetamine part of the drugs and vice squad. Somebody else have a question. Today he's talking to State Building officials cracking cocaine are getting the headlines but methamphetamines otherwise known as speed or crank may be affecting the health of many more Oregonians fellow remembers the first meth lab he went into. In August 1996 dressed only in his uniform. I went home after that. I had a headache sore throat nausea and I couldn't sleep. Then I got diarrhea. I thought I had
one of the worst cases of the flu that I had in years. I didn't associate it with chemicals at all. So now please wear the protective clothing and Bella hasn't gotten sick again. After going into those former labs the number of methamphetamine labs has been increasing since one thousand eighty three nine labs that year 17 the next then forty eight then one hundred two. Last year police discovered one hundred and forty meth labs in Oregon. This is not a bad house. Bella says they're finding more labs not because of fancy police work. They're simply more of them out there usually found after the illicit chemists have finished brewing their drugs and usually stumbled upon by a uniformed officer or reported by an irate landlord who's gone inside to get the place ready for a new tenant. This bright house right here for sale. The guy's got a for sale. Bella had been here in April 1998 when police seized a lab in this house. Now three months later as Bella and I walk near the house he refused to go toward the back
door. He smelled that familiar odor that had given him headaches and nausea in the past. It doesn't look like it's been cleaned up from the inside so I seriously doubt the landlord. We can't we don't have the lawyer or whatever to require him to do anything. But yes you know his own conscience professionally. It's none of my business. Whether they clean up the house and I. Personally it. You know it bothers me. You know I just from. A human being aspect. Of worrying about people. Moving and being into these things but after police take the chemicals out of a meth lab Bella sends a certified letter to the homeowner telling the landlord that a drug lab was taken off the property and warning of the hazardous chemicals found there. Does it tell them what to do about cleaning up. No because all I really don't know what to do. We met Detective Bella back at the house that we'd watch police raid two months before.
Now have you talked to the owner about this house and I warned them. No the only lives in California I sent the owner certified letter all regarding it and it came back on claims. So what happens now with this house. Somebody moves in there doesn't know that there's any danger. Roughly we don't have any legal means to stop them. Phenomenally well it's just we don't. I don't have the power to close the house down. You know it's a health hazard. Is it a health hazard. Personally I think so but I haven't got to the credentials to say that it is. I wouldn't live on it. Not not unless it's been you know as thoroughly claimed and I'm not sure what it would take to thoroughly clean up. But before a house can be cleaned someone has to go inside. Now if Bella wouldn't go near a house that have been vacant for three months why should someone else venture into this one without
any warning. The fact is he had the Portland phone number of the owner's mother in law. He'd given it to me. But because she hadn't heard from the Portland Police Department she was planning to rent the place. Yes we were expecting some type of communication from them which we didn't receive and so we came back to the house last wild about two weeks ago and there's nothing posted on the house. So what did you think. So we thought well someplace in paperwork shuffle there has been nothing wrong. Who or whatever they found down there was must not have been dangerous because the House has not posted in any way. That's not the end of the problems with this house. But we'll come back to it a little later on. And even though we observed this one instance of a police department failing to contact the landlord at least Bella made an attempt. That's more than any other agency did to protect the public. My cavalcade owns this house in Northeast Portland.
It's taken him more than a year to clean it up after firemen discovered a methamphetamine lab in the basement. When the police found out who owned the house and they notified us was about four days after the fire. And I had never heard the word methamphetamine before. And I had no idea what it was. And so in a way I'm happy that it happened the way it did because I did not walk into this. Lab. Unprotected. However Kate has gotten a lot of news coverage because she's one of the first and most persistent landlords in Portland who had to deal with the problem of how to clean up a former lab. I did not enter the house without protective gear. I always had a respirator. When we first started I've had. Piped in air fresh air to breathe and always the suits and boots and everything taped down. I was not probably as sophisticated as what the police now wear. But. Certainly I didn't walk in like I am today.
When however Kate began. There were no guidelines about how to do it. He wrote letters to government officials made out-of-state phone calls everything to find out what he could do to restore his property. There. Sometimes you know there have been a number of times I would like to just quit. I do that. And still be stuck in the house looking. And I had a hard time finding anybody who would even come over here to do any of the work that I have clean a park. So I did it all myself. Today a friend is helping with some of the reconstruction. The upstairs here doesn't seem to have been part of the lab. This was the scene in the basement before have started work after sweeping vacuuming industrial strength cleaning baking the house at 95 degrees for a week coating the entire basement with a sealer and then adding three coats of paint. Here's what it looks like today for the most part everybody saying sorry we don't deal with this. And I got that from every state agency and. She were real sympathetic for your problem. Figured out. So it's it's been
difficult getting. Home. Since most of the work has been done so far is on the person who shows up first. What does a fireman do you want to do to protect himself. It's not what it's citizens to protect us. Since police are first on the scene you might think that they put a sign on the door warning about the chemical residues inside. Well put a sign up dangerous and taking a sign down implies it's not dangerous. And. Someone has to take it. You know if I put it up I inherently have the authority to take it down. I don't want to do that. You may be wondering why the Oregon Health Department doesn't put up a sign. I think it seems clear to those of us who've been working real closely with the issue that it seems to be a building issue with the building issue. For that we look to the Bureau of buildings. I can go out and declare a building dangerous by listing sure you certain things that are listed in the code there's there 17 different points but
chemical contamination is not one of them. Chemical contamination. That sounds like the Department of Environmental Quality really doesn't affect environmental quality at the potential effects public health of people entering the home. That sounds like the Department of Public Health again. Well the thing is when you post a sign you have to have rules and guidelines about when you put the sign up and what has to be done to take the sign down. You can post a place indefinitely. The Bureau of buildings is issuing warnings but only to its own employees telling them to stay away from the structures. There's no sign on this building that says that it's unsafe. That's correct. Is it unsafe. No one knows. What do you think. In my own mind. I would not enter that building. Because I have been around the age and the exposure it gave me I had it. Which tells me there's something in there that isn't good for me. Therefore I will stay away from what I consider it unsafe. But you're not going to want to sign on there. There is no telling other people to stay away. There is no
law that says. Meth lab is on sale. After having seen the police go in with all of their protective gear on. Would you want to walk into the building dressed as you are if you knew it had been used as a meth lab. Oh certainly not until added. At least I could be given information on what was there and what was done to reduce the contamination. All they did was take the chemical Oh no I would not not not just like snow and yet you're not willing to go ahead and put a sign up warning someone just as you would want to be warned your son has the sign does more than warning what these agencies are really afraid of is liability. You see putting a sign on the door warning anyone who might pass by that a meth lab spent in the building. Well that would put state government at risk. There is no law specifically outlining the hazards of entering a former meth lab. If one of these meth labs gets busted in say one of the big hotels in Tao which has occurred are we going to go in there and make them
put a sign on that door says we had a meth lab here. What do their business. So what so what. Who wants to accept that no state worth doesn't want to accept at the county doesn't like stuff that the city doesn't accept don't want to accept it because you're looking at fantastic lawsuits if you do all of the officials that you've seen in this program are part of the clandestine drug lab Committee. They're trying to put their expertise together to deal with the growing number of meth labs in Oregon's Jane Gordon is chair of that committee. This is an issue that came to us hot and unknown and we're whacking away at it as fast as we can. And one piece at a time and it's taken 15 to 20 people from different disciplines to even try and get a sense of what in the world is going on here. One major step has been a booklet about methamphetamines including several pages of guidelines from the Department of Environmental Quality. Suggestions for how to clean property
it's been used as a drug lab. For. The. Long. Haul. It. Was. Already happening in the. U.S. after police remove the chemicals from the house. Q pays an industrial contractor to haul the jars and barrels away. But even after the chemicals are gone the house isn't necessarily clean. We would expect our cleanup contractor to pick up the visible chemicals that are in piles or potholes. But the house isn't clean after that as I thought. That's all we do. We don't physically clean the carpet so we don't physically clean the countertops we don't repaint walls. We believe that's the responsibility of the owner of the structure. So once the professionals have left the problem of cleaning these chemical residues is left in the hands of a person who may have little or no chemical background. A landlord. What are you going to do with the house now.
If anybody will I'm going to sell it. Meanwhile we found someone with a cheerier attitude toward meth labs. They've given David Trenton New Career cleaning up former lab sites this one is a contaminated pick up truck that was used to transport methamphetamine chemicals. Is a pretty common true to clean cars are not actually this is the first car I've cleaned I have seen approximately eight buildings now. But this is the first vehicle I've had a chance to play in so it's going to present a little bit of a different child. I. Don't think you would mostly be able to clean the seats. Well they're not totally different than I'm cleaning the carpet in the house or your furniture in the house and I've been able to do both roles successfully start out. By wiping everything down with a. Detergent solution. Following that with a solution of. White vinegar. And water. And then followed by a thorough. Wipe down with.
Detergent solution. And then use the last thing I do in the houses. Steam the carpets. So basically this is the same procedure I use on this as I went on. In the house when I come in all the chemicals have been removed no than a very noticeable spill on the floor or countertop. I just assume everything's contaminated and cleaned it all. It was some of Dr. Brant Burton's work on the clandestine drug lab committee that set forth the guidelines for cleaning up meth labs. So I asked him about David trance method. It's not precisely right for him to the to the guidelines. By. The chemical substances that would exist. In small amounts on the surfaces. Walls and so forth. Are solids their water soluble. So that they can be cleaned by detergent and steam cleaning. According to Burton. Most of the chemicals used to make methamphetamines can be cleaned with detergent. The other substances will evaporate all by themselves. Many of these bottles look intimidating and their names are hard to pronounce but once the
bulk chemicals are removed from the house Burton believes that most structures can be cleaned. The problem is no one is requiring anyone to clean up those former meth labs. It's left up to each landlord to decide whether or not to clean how to clean and whether or not to ever tell a buyer or a new tenant. Because it caught us. That. Is the way to go. Don't quite show up. They think. Radical Islam. In the US is the way it went. Yeah. Burn it down. And we'll. Remember this house in Southeast Portland. The owner assumed that after police removed the chemicals all she had to do was clean out some of the garbage and it would be ready to rent. Bonnie and her son Dan had just left the house clean and she'd been inside because the owner had asked for a cleaning estimate so that's what I was here for. So we start finding where you know when you start walking around you see needles laying around and I open the refrigerator the last thing in there you know and look at the condition of the inside to find rotten food it was fresh
fruit in there and three bottles of I don't know what to do with it it just knocked me out partner. I found that some bags in the basement they were just full of used syringes. Now we knew I called the police. Heck after I was in there 20 minutes and I said Well would it you know it's been cleaned up and everything. I said well they're still director thanks so I better come in you know now. It had been two months since their first visit to this house. After talking with neighbors police learned that one of the former residents may have been sneaking in late at night to cook up more drugs. They were in there within two hours they were never seen again a blue and white van bring anything in there. Oh no. And well that was when they were living there they you know again the hazardous materials team suited up and went inside. If there had been a sign on the door from some government agency that might have kept Bonnie and her son from going in the house I think they should have maybe done a follow up and you think he would you know as long as this
place is been sitting here you think they would have followed up on it. Some state agencies are putting all this in the hands of landlords. They may be putting public safety there too. Landlords aren't the only ones who need warnings about chemical residues and houses. What about renters buyers. What happens to this house now. Well hopefully we can get it cleaned up. And everything will be alright and we can get it printed. That's our hope. How much are you willing to spend the cleanest house on if it takes three or four thousand dollars to clean it and have it tested. No the young people don't have that they've already now behind all these months. As far as rent and they are a young couple and. I don't know where they would come up with additional for that kind of funding and I'm sure other owners of rentals must be facing the same problem.
How confident do you feel walking up to the door right now going into that house. Well the officer said that he could go in and clean the house and the only thing that we should do with check to see from the Health Department what we should wash the walls with. If there is danger it must be very minimal or they wouldn't say I could go in and clean it up because I doubt I have. After all. I don't have any. Experience. With dealing with anything like. Her. At all. We're in a position to guarantee safety. We don't know what the problem danger is to the people that get around them. And we're left with some serious problems and some serious unanswered questions. Next week on Front Street weekly we'll visit a controversial acupuncture clinic in Portland that claims an impressive success rate with drug addicts. Find out
Front Street Weekly
Episode Number
No. 804
Cleaning House: Oregon's Meth Lab Crisis
Producing Organization
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Contributing Organization
Oregon Public Broadcasting (Portland, Oregon)
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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Episode Description
"'Cleaning House: Oregon's Meth Lab Crisis' explores the problems associated with cleaning up after a methamphetamine drug lab is removed from a rented home or motel. "Oregon is ranked second in the nation for the number of meth labs police find, yet no one seems to know when it is safe to enter a house after the chemicals are removed. State agencies typically [assigned] to the task of protecting the public are at a loss as to how to clean up these homes and when the public is out of danger. "As more and more meth labs are discovered in Oregon, the problem will demand the attention of state and local government. This program merits Peabody consideration because it makes the public aware of when 'drug houses' are discovered by the authorities. This informative program lets the public know that the problems continue while attempts are made to restore the home, and the neighborhood, back to normal."--1988 Peabody Awards entry form.
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Social Issues
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Oregon Public Broadcasting 1988
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Associate Producer: Allen, Bob
Editor: Hansen, Ellen
Host: Robertson, Hope
Producer: Robertson, Hope
Producing Organization: Oregon Public Broadcasting
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Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-91958145f50 (Filename)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Original
Duration: 00:26:40:00
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-057751895ef (Filename)
Format: U-matic
Duration: 0:26:40
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Chicago: “Front Street Weekly; No. 804; Cleaning House: Oregon's Meth Lab Crisis,” 1988-11-07, Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 27, 2022,
MLA: “Front Street Weekly; No. 804; Cleaning House: Oregon's Meth Lab Crisis.” 1988-11-07. Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 27, 2022. <>.
APA: Front Street Weekly; No. 804; Cleaning House: Oregon's Meth Lab Crisis. Boston, MA: Oregon Public Broadcasting, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from