Single mom Denise Yocum knew her new house would be a real-fixer upper.
What she didn't realize was she'd be paying more than she bargained for. $750 a month in mortgage payments ...
"... on a property I cannot even live in." says Yocum.
All because it had a meth lab in it ... something she realized only after she moved in and was told by a neighbor.
She says she and her 10 year-old son, Stefan, experienced severe headaches, nausea, and burning sensations in the stomach.
"You've got a whole variety of kinds of physical symptoms that can manifest themselves when you start breathing these kinds of things in."
Chief of Environmental Health Dan Bowlds says prolonged exposure can lead to more severe problems such as Hepatitis C and mental illnesses. And if it's that bad for adults, it can be fatal for kids.
"The symptoms can be worse because they breathe more air per body gram of mass than adults do."
What makes Denise's situation even more ironic is she bought her house from the government agency HUD ... or Housing and Urban Development ... a group that helps provide housing for low-income families.
They never told her her house used to be a meth lab.
"I feel very angry that the government doesn't protect me. I feel even more angry that I bought it from the government without any disclosure," says Yocum.
But HUD may have never known about it.
Alexandra Daugherty of Century 21 Real Estate agency says there's no law requiring agents to know if homes are contaminated.
"If the agent has actual knowledge that it was a former meth house, then, yes, the agent does have the duty to disclose.
But if that is unknown to the agent, the agent does not have a duty to investigate."
And without any formal legislation, the problem is getting bigger.
According to the El Paso County Sheriffs' Vice and Narcotics Investigations Unit, there were 153 meth lab busts in 2002, 87 in 2001, 79 in 2000, and 54 in 1999.
So far this year, there are 140.
VNI adds an average of 2 to 3 busts are made weekly.
Plus, VNI and the county health department say there are about 10 meth labs that are not discovered for every one that is.
Says Sgt. Terry Curry of Metro VNI, "We've busted labs in the Broadmoor, and the Briargate, and the B Street area ... in the inner city of Colorado Springs ... some of the not more affluent areas. It doesn't matter. It could be anywhere ... "
... because it's relatively cheap and easy to make meth.
It takes between 2 to 6 hours to set up a lab .... but clean-up is a different story.
"One of the problems that we face here in Colorado is that we didn't even have guidelines."
Which is why State Representative Mark Cloer plans to introduce legislation in 2004 that sets standards for cleaning meth labs.
"If you don't do a proper clean-up or a proper clean-up is not performed, then you have the opportunity to infect or cause ill health to other people that would reside in the location afterwards."
In the meantime, there are some signs to look for:
- yellow stains on walls, carpets, and wash basins.
- the smell of paint or animal urine
- large quantities of chemicals
- boarded-up windows.
and says Daugherty ....
"Always call the sheriff's department or the Colorado Springs Police Department on any home they're interested in purchasing to discover what kind of criminal activities have occurred in the neighborhood."
Information Denise Yocum could have used ealier now that she faces losing a home.
"I'm looking at the next step being the shelter."