Family: New home's meth lab past made us sick
The image provided by the Hankins family shows the exterior of the home they purchased in Klamath Falls, Oregon that was later determined to be a former meth lab. The Hankins moved out after experiencing health problems. / Jonathan Hankins
Jonathan Hankins was thrilled after purchasing an affordable home for his wife and 2-year-old son in Klamath Falls, Ore. That changed, he said, when what resided beneath the home's walls began to poison his family.
Like many Americans, the Hankins were in debt, so they chose to buy a $36,000 "fixer-upper" foreclosure listed by HomeSteps.com, a listing site for Freddie Mac-owned properties. On the surface the home was in need of "TLC" -- from fixing up broken, boarded windows to redoing the floors and other repairs the family felt they could pay for as time went on.
"With foreclosure prices, we thought that would be a good way to go," Jonathan Hankins told CBSNews.com in an interview.
Family sickened by home's meth lab past
The family moved into the home the third week of June. Within days, Jonathan began experiencing severe dry mouth unlike he'd ever had before. He initially thought it was allergies, but soon his wife Beth, an emergency room nurse, also got severe dry mouth and developed sores.
Jonathan's symptoms progressed to sinus migraines, while Beth developed breathing problems. They both felt disoriented and their 2-year-old son Ezra was also acting strange.
Jonathan wasn't sure if Ezra was just uncomfortable with the move or sick. On his last night they lived at the ill-fated house, the boy kept telling his parents he was thirsty, but when he tried to drink water, Jonathan said his son threw it across the room because it burned.
"The neighbors said it's probably the meth," Jonathan said of the symptoms. That's when the family decided to move out, about two weeks after they moved in.
Once neighbors informed the Hankins the foreclosed property previously housed a methamphetamine lab, they had a $50 test conducted that looked for presence of methamphetamine residue. Despite already performing renovations including painting and sanding the floors, the test found 38 micrograms of methamphetamine residue, which they said surpassed Oregon's legal limit is 0.5 micrograms by nearly 80-fold.
"I was naive enough to the point that if it had been a meth house, it had been cleaned appropriately," Beth told CBSNews.com.
If the house was used for a high-volume meth lab, there is potential for exposure to other harmful chemicals besides methamphetamine, according to Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
"As anyone who watches 'Breaking Bad' knows, it's a pretty complicated chemical synthesis," Spaeth told CBSNews.com. "I think there's real concern for anyone who would be living in that environment."
Spaeth, who has no direct knowledge of the Hankins' case, said the chemicals involved in making meth are highly toxic, and if they're stored or disposed of improperly, there is real potential for toxic exposure. He recommends enlisting a testing company prior to purchasing a home to check for toxins such as radon, lead, molds, asbestos and other more commonly seen potential health risks.
"It's important to vet potential health issues, not just the usual concerns when you buy a house," Spaeth said.
The Herald and News of Klamath Falls, Ore. reports that homeowners are required by law to disclose if the home was used to produce dangerous drugs and would need the claim verified by the state health department. However that only works if the sellers are honest and financial instiutions know the home's history, according to the paper.
The Hankins' moved in with Beth's parents and their illnesses subsided within a week. Cleaning the property would be expensive on top of the renovations they already paid for, so they rented another house and sought recourse with the company they purchased the property from.
Jonathan began calling and emailing Freddie Mac's customer service line to voice his complains. He said only once did a customer service representative contact him to take down his information, but he never heard from the company over seven weeks. Dissatisfied with his lack of response and deterred by the legal fees it would take to mount a challenge, Jonathan took to change.org to create a petition. In the petition, he asks Freddie Mac for funds to pay for the house and its decontamination, and to start regularly testing its homes for meth residue.
"Freddie Mac won't take any responsibility for misleading us about the safety of our home, and attorneys just tell us that we should've read the fine print," read the petition. "Tell that to my son. Simply walking away will not only negatively impact our credit, but would enable banks to continue this trend of severe negligence."
The petition currently has more than 197,000 supporters.
Brad German, a spokesperson for Freddie Mac, told CBSNews.com that when a house comes into its inventory, the company looks to listing brokers to disclose information about the property's history so the company can get an idea of its condition and value.
"On this particular property, no such information was provided to us," German said, saying there were no police reports, odd smells or drug paraphernalia reported. If the company had known, it would have "certainly" disclosed such information, he said.
"We're very empathetic, this isn't what we look for in a sale," said German. "But the buyers were given every opportunity to do an inspection or conduct any test they wanted to conduct."
The Hankins are feeling better today but hope their story raises awareness to other prospective home-buyers.
"Because of the growing number of foreclosures and meth production, it is not going away," Jonathan Hankins said. "It is like Russian Roulette to home buyers."
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