15 Aug 2016

Meth contamination guidelines 'needed now'

7:56 am on 15 August 2016

New methamphetamine contamination guidelines cannot come soon enough, Auckland District Law Society says.

Laboratory, Lab, Scientist, (file photo)

Photo: 123RF

Methamphetamine contamination guidelines being developed by Standards New Zealand are expected to be ready early next year.

Auckland District Law Society vice president Joanna Pidgeon said testing for meth prior to properties being sold was becoming more common - particularly in rental homes - despite a lack of understanding about the issue.

Current Ministry of Health guidelines designed to help clean up former meth labs were instead being used to assess homes in which the drug may have been smoked, Ms Pidgeon said.

She said houses were being deemed uninhabitable when tiny traces of the drug are detected, despite experts saying the levels were so low they posed absolutely no risk to health.

The guidelines, which would not be ready until March, were needed now, she said.

"In the meantime tenants, landlords, lawyers are left with a bit of a black hole in terms of what is safe, what is unsafe in terms of contamination and how tests should be carried out," she said.

"Because there are differences in terms of methodology from different testers, what should be done for remediation - there is suspicion over some testers that are involved in remediation as well that they have their own agenda in terms of drumming up extra remediation work.

"So we really cannot get these guidelines soon enough to address that black hole that we have at the moment."

Recent Tenancy Tribunal decisions have awarded massive clean-up cost compensation to Housing New Zealand tenants because tiny traces of the drug have been detected.

But Ms Pidgeon said the Tribunal's decisions were inconsistent.

"One of the issues with the Tenancy Tribunal is there isn't much communication between different people within the Tribunal.

"Without education and training for Tribunal adjudicators they may not be aware of how the standards are supposed to work."

The Ministry of Health has repeatedly refused to make anyone available for an interview on its meth lab decontamination guidelines.

Ms Pidgeon said the ministry needed to clarify whether the guidelines were being misused.

Green MP Marama Davidson said people's lives were being ruined by the Ministry's silence.

"Until we get these standards sorted out they need to be clear ... I think this is incredibly irresponsible, what seems like a cowboy industry is running loose."

National Party MP Andrew Bayly agreed there needed to be standardisation of meth testing in New Zealand and more appropriate testing guidelines.

He was hopeful the government would adopt a bill he proposed which, he said, would also lead to a fairer relationship between tenants and landlords when it came to meth testing and contamination.

"The first bit is about protecting the obligations of the landlord - what that allows is for a landlord to be able to enter their property, with sufficient notice, and do testing," Mr Bayly said.

Mr Bayly said at the moment a landlord could take a real estate agent into a property but not a meth tester.

"On the other side, what it says, is if a landlord does test a house and finds it exceeds the minimum threshold, he or she must disclose that information to the tenant."