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August 08, 2005 10:00 PM

Cleaning Up The Meth Mess

It causes tooth decay, paranoia, strokes, brain damage and even death. Methamphetamine is highly addictive. And one frightening fact about the drug is that it's production is easy to learn, relatively inexpensive and can be done anywhere, even in the comforts of someone's own home. Meth labs are not uncommon. But what happens when a lab is found, the drug is taken out of it and the meth makers are put behind bars?

By the looks of one home near Marion, you'd never know at one time its basement was used as a meth lab. Cindi Newcomb says, "This is where they were actually cooking. This was a carpeted family room and this had to be completely gutted and the wood had to be refinished. The walls were repainted."

Cindi Newcomb and her family used to rent the home, long before authorities discovered what was hidden in the basement. She says, "Last year the home that we used to live in turned out to have a clandestine ecstasy lab. It was right here in Marion. And it was owned by our friend and Pastor. So he asked us if we could do something about helping him get it cleaned up."

Newcomb and her husband run Santi Kleen, a commercial exhaust cleaning service, so they had equipment that could help in the cleanup process. Newcomb says, "We went and did some research and found out that we could actually clean it up. We've followed the testing that they recommended, followed all the procedures, sent in the test results after it was all done and it turned out to be safe and habitable."

That's how Santi Kleen transformed and now is also a meth cleaning business. Newcomb says, "This was washed top to bottom, I think. The drapes were thrown out, the closets were thrown out. I mean it was pretty much gutted down to this."

Santi Kleen has already tested 10 homes and cleaned four since this part of the business started just a year ago. Newcomb says, "The state has been very helpful. They actually listed us on their website. So when the police or child protective services or some other agencies has what they think is a clandestine lab they can go to the website and find our names there."

The Newcombs are currently in the process of being certified, which will mean they'll soon be able to cross state lines to clean up meth homes. Right now, they're focusing on South Dakota. She says, "We have been to Sioux Falls, to Stockholm, to Milbank."

Cleaning meth homes is a very dangerous task. She says, "We could kill ourselves if we did it wrong.These are PPE's which are personal protective equipment. These are suits. We use respirators, we pretty much protect ourselves."

Newcomb says the first thing she does in a meth home is take samples from eight to ten different spots. She says, "The process starts with using these swabs to wipe them on a surface and then they are preserved in methanol. They're shipped up to a lab in Washington and they're tested within 24 hours."

The results of those tests tell the Newcombs what products they'll need to use to clean the home. Newcomb says, "We could use anything from water to detergents. There's a lot of science and chemistry to it. If you know what was used than you can tell is it an acid, it is a base, you have to know what solvents were used."

Often times, the Newcombs will have to strip the home, taking everything out. She says, "It's a lot of elbow grease when you get right down to it."

The cleaning process is also not cheap. Newcomb says, "To have somebody come in from Minneapolis or Denver is a lot more expensive than having a local company come in and clean it."

Newcomb says out of state companies charge up to $10,000. Her company charges anywhere between $2500 and $5000. But she says it's not about the money. She says, "It's rewarding and challenging and kind of heartbreaking all at the same time."

It's also about keeping the future homeowners or renters healthy. Newcomb says, "I don't know that my grandchildren wouldn't end up living in a house someday that had been used for a lab or some other purpose that could make them sick."

If you'd like to contact the Newcombs and have them come test your home, you can call 605-648-3371.

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