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A ground-breaking new report reveals NZ’s ‘moral panic’ on meth contamination in houses has been way overblown & multi millions spent on decontamination was a waste

A ground-breaking new report reveals NZ’s ‘moral panic’ on meth contamination in houses has been way overblown & multi millions spent on decontamination was a waste
Phil Twyford by Jacky Carpenter.

The Government has wasted millions of dollars and hundreds of state homes based on the assumption methamphetamine contamination in houses was a much larger health risk than it is.

A new report by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has revealed there is no evidence to suggest anyone has ever been harmed by passive exposure to meth.

This is despite Housing New Zealand (HNZ) spending roughly $100 million over the last four years on the testing and decontamination of houses suspected of being contaminated by the drug, with several hundred remaining vacant.

Due to the report’s findings, some 240 of those homes are now being made available for accommodation.

“There is no evidence in the medical literature anywhere in the world of anybody being harmed by passive exposure to meth, at any level,” the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Peter Gluckman, told media on Tuesday.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford says for years, there has been a “widely held perception” that even the presence of even low levels of meth in a house is a health risk – Gluckman calls this a “moral panic.”

His report – which is the most detailed analysis his office has conducted since its inception nine years ago – proves this perception is a myth.

Currently, if 1.5 milligrams of meth residue per 100 cm2 is found in a house it is recommended to be decontaminated.

But the report recommends that should be increased 10-fold to 15mg and Gluckman says even that level will not have any health impacts.

“There is, theoretically a [health] risk if you got up to levels of 100mg or thereabouts, but that’s theoretical. You probably would need levels much higher, in the order of 1000-10,000mg to have a risk.”

To put this into perspective, of 1600 homes which HNZ already suspected of meth contamination, just 1% contained traces of 30mg for 100cm2 or more.

“Tests thus far have been pointless, other than if they have detected very high levels,” Gluckman says.

The policy implications

Twyford says he has been concerned for a while that significant sums of money have been spent on testing and decontamination of houses that are thought to have been contaminated by meth.

“This report tells us the great majority of that money spent on testing and remuneration was completely unnecessary.”

Forensic and scientific testing typically costs between $500-$5000 and remuneration costs for homeowners ranges from $2000-$50,000, he says.

“As well as this, large numbers of homes thought to be contaminated have been demolished or left empty for long periods of time in the middle of a housing crisis.”

Twyford says because of the report, HNZ will immediately make 240 homes, which are sitting vacant, available for accommodation.  

The next step for the Government is to work the report’s findings into legislation.

“Our intention now, with the Residual Tenancy Number Two Bill that’s before Parliament, is to use that bill to set regulations that will set clear and practical guidance for homeowners, landlords and tenants.”

He is expecting these to be in place in a year’s time.

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83 Comments

Why did John Key's Government go to great lengths to avoid any reasonable advice and instead create work that is obviously a rip off of both taxpayers and building owners?

https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/08/broken-window-fallacy.asp

To answer that question, I would begin by checking out who the shareholders are in the meth testing companies.

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Or who stood to benefit from the demolition and on-sale of the land...

So we're ok if they smoke a little meth, just not too much?

In terms of contamination of the property, yes. There may be other considerations. Say we wanted to discourage people from committing murder in state homes, I don't think the approach would be 'you can't do that because the blood spatters contaminate the house'.

That's exactly what I'm saying. As you pointed out why celebrating that we no longer have to clean the blood away?

Because we've spent $100 million on doing these cleanups, for no public health benefit. We've wasted money. Would you prefer that we keep spending money pointlessly? This is a separate question to dealing with drug use in society.

I agree with you, we never should have had to spend anything. This shouldn't be a problem, and what has this government done to address the underlying issue? Same thing they have done about immigration and housing, Nothing.

I'm not sure about specific policies, but Police and Health spending were both given useful increases in the recent budget. The biggest benefit could come with the legalising cannabis referendum due probably in 2020 which could free up significant resources to deal with more serious drug issues.

I don't know the timing of these events (because I haven't checked) but I do wonder whether this may have coincided with the ideological drive to start selling off state housing. Was it used as a beat-up, a reason why they're all a waste of money and should be gotten rid of?

I'm curious about this statement, specifically the ideological change. Who changed there mind about selling state houses?

I've always been under the opinion that the current stock of state houses is a terrible use of government assets, in that you have 2 and 3 bedroom houses in the middle of Auckland worth $1m-$2m but only shelters maybe a family of 4. If all we did was sell one and invest that we would see 35k-75k a year in conservative investments which could use to house AND retain/rehabilitate those in need. I'm sure there are much better ideas than this, point is financially the current housing stock is poor at providing shelter.

Headline opportunity - MethBusters

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Good to see some kind of Scientific process being followed and the Government actually taking it on board without giving in to moral panic (although there's still time for this to change). It's disappointing that its taken so long and so much money has been wasted. Speaking as a Scientist, it's a fantastic advert for how employing some Scientific advice can save a huge amount of money and effort in the long run. Let's hope this continues with other aspects of drugs policy.

Agreed, but without being too critical, his statement “There is no evidence in the medical literature anywhere in the world of anybody being harmed by passive exposure to meth, at any level,” causes me to ask if anyone has even investigated the question internationally? A lack of evidence doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't cause harm, it may simply mean no one has tested to see what effects low levels of meth has. Don't forget everyone thought lead based paints were safe too, and asbestos!

The full report is available on stuff:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/104287037/rental-meth-panic-over

I've only skim read, but the methodology seems to be based largely on two US studies into threshold doses required for some kind of biological effect (based on studies using methamphetamine to control weight for pregnant women(!) and animal toxicology). These dose limits are then converted to acceptable contamination levels, with significant safety margins built in. My favourite quote:

""We're looking at a 1000-fold safety factor minimum in our recommendations, for a naked toddler crawling around the floor licking every bit of the floor up to several hours a day," Gluckman said"

What a joke! Many were saying the thresholds were set too low, luckily we were not badly affected by wrong labelling.

damn. I''ve already have had to change from being an expert eqc assessor to a meth tester, now I'm gonna have to become a bovine tester. .......I wonder what I'll do after that... radiation tester seems an option. Gotta plan ahead..

Watch as the meth testing companies shift to asbestos testing for $135 a sample...especially since the April 4th asbestos law changes. If I were an investor I would be making a killing...heh.

Jolly good point. All those decramastic roof tiles from the 1970's are supposedly dangerous. That's despite the fact that the asbestos is embedded in tar. I recently had to pay a few thousand extra for a refoof.

Actually Rastus with a CV like that, you could get a good livelihood simply as a tester tester.

Meanwhile the government completely ignores the mounting scientific evidence that contamination from lead-based paint dust is a very real problem at even tiny levels in many NZ homes, retains the clearance standards at dangerous levels, and refuses to educate the public. Meth contamination was always far less of a concern than elevated blood lead levels in children living in older homes but lead gets none of the hype and most people are clueless about it. In the States, landlords have to provide evidence of safe lead levels...

Yes but would require doing something, this government tries very hard not to do things, like building houses. Are these kiwibuild houses now? Is that where this is going? Are they going to say "but they wouldn't be available otherwise?

They need all the houses they can get, dead rats and all.

A few have tried to convince the government of this - problem is the total concentration estimates Vs the bioavailable portion of your sample in question- and only a few labs in NZ do bioavailability gastric assays (I used to do them for one of the labs that do, and it is a very difficult test method to perform).

You are correct on how scary lead can be even in low quantities and its epidemiological effects. I have seen the lead results from dust gathered from the floors of lead paint houses (people traipsing it inside), and the results were a mind boggling. You wouldn't want your kids anywhere near it!!

One day, everyone will realize they weren't looking for the right bogeyman!

Not to mention all the DIYers sanding it off their villas, inside and out.

next minit meth is ok!

Smoking meth or "P" is definitely NOT ok, I know from someone very close and meth's dependency is terrible. Said person lost his wife & 2 kids, his house and his business. My wife and I put him into Sunnyside in Chch so he could not obtain any more meths.

I guess you missed the sarcasm !

Ummm..... Guys, I get the point of the article was that we spent lots of money fixing ex-meth houses, but is everyone just glancing over the fact that 1600 had been "suspected" of meth contamination!

Shouldn't the question be how to stop people in state houses form smoking meth instead of how much meth they can smoke before it hurts other people!

I mean ok so its only 16 instead of 1600 so we'll save some money, so what? It should be none!

100 million dollars would have gone a long way in terms of drugs treatment and education, instead we pissed it up against the wall doing pointless cleanups.

While the meth-testers were looting the country, actual drug rehab programmes were cut right back.

A goodly part of the housing bubble is built on a foundation of meth profits, and that's been the case for 20 years.

To paraphrase Grendel - "Come on guys, don't lose focus of the real talking point of the story. How can we now punish all beneficiaries for the drug dependency issues of a subset of them (or their visitors), if we can no longer kick them out and demolish their houses based on pseudo scientific explanations. Lets get back on topic now..."

When did I say anything about kicking them out?

How about we help these people? How about we use the money we are saving on useless repairs and use it to fix the problem instead celebrating the fact the all the drug will only damage a few people. I've seen what drug addiction can do and its no joking matter. Seriously think before you write something next time.

You are right there, walking down Queen Street the other day was horrifying. I couldn't believe this is what our main street has become. In fact I'm pretty sure there was someone on some substance screaming he's head off in the middle of the road outside today just outside the Countdown on Victoria Street. Middle of the day too, makes me sad.

Yeah...things have gotten massively worse in the last few years. Crazy.

The central city is awful. I avoid it like the plague

Kick 'em all out. If they can afford meth, they can afford to pay market rent.

Drug test them all I say. I work in an office and am subject to drug tests, so why not beneficiaries?

Not sure why the NZ media is running this story across the board today. This is old news to me, maybe 2 years old, maybe older. Guess facts travel at a snails pace in the land of sleepy Hobbits lol.

Ah, maybe it's because a report by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor came out today...

Very old news to me as well. There is serious money to be made in the arbitrage between Kiwi's lack of scientific understanding and NZ government policy / detection limits, when compared to those overseas...

Just alerting the hoi polloi that you can't swing a discount by smoking a quick meth pipe at open homes anymore.

This is a bombshell, it is very big to people who failed to sell their houses because of a MYTH and unproven science... it is big because some tenants refuse to rent unless they get a P test done...

It is big because there has been businesses scare mongering, terrifying, and ripping off people on the basis of a number pulled out of thin air ... HNZ spent $100M on cleaning in the last 4 years alone ( according to Newstalk ZB) ...

It is big because we have been conned by Gov departments and councils !

I agree, add it to the list of areas where the national govt completely dropped the ball. It took only a cursory google search to learn that the earlier standards were risibly low. I hope this report is implemented in full as soon as possible and we can put this mass meth hysteria behind us. Kudos to the current government for getting this issue sorted in 9 months.

The only danger is when the place has been used to "cook" the stuff.

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The whole issue and question here is:
On what basis did the Land Transfer Authority, Banks, Kiwisaver, and others were allowed to restrict, force, stop house sales, and punish owners when there was no proper scientific evidence and NO Legislation !!! ( just by depending on a finding by an academic in Australia)

So does this news make us look like a country of Idiots ripping off each other ? or something worse than that ?

Should this prompt our leaders to grow some brains and do proper investigations before committing the citizens to millions of unnecessary EXPENDITURES?

Eco it seems to me sometimes that our “authorities” crave to be part of the big bad world out there and be noticed, rather than having to operate on some small stage in a remote and obscure part of the world. The Starsky & Hutch helicopter raid on Dotcom, the terrorists in the forest round up, were drastically over reactive, unnecessary. Think we have far too many public servants working in rooms without windows dreaming up ventures to justify their position and salary. Winston has expressed that sentiment often, and on that I am right with him.

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Eco just on your penultimate para. A country of idiots, as viewed by the rest of the world? Well now, down here in Christchurch the locals are forced by the authorities to drink highly unpleasant chlorinated tap water while simultaneously the same authorities allow overseas interests to avail themselves of pure artesian well water, pay nothing at all for it, and export it and sell it overseas. That is a plot Monty Python would be proud of.
Yep, idiots and laughing stock, but good captive rate payers though.

I think John Key should be personally liable for this disaster. Maybe he is and that's why he fled the country.

Superb so the Government says it's okay to buy all those houses that weren't selling at B & T auctions.. Just because they are all ex-rentals it doesn't mean they are contaminated with P, because P is not a problem.... Back to buying again then ? Or shall we just let the debt crisis ride out for a while longer first?

Looks like the original report used µg, a symbol for microgram, not milligram. Microgram is 1/1000th of a milligram. Big difference between 1.5 micrograms and 1.5 milligrams! Might be a case of a quick edit to this article.

I had a look after seeing your comment I can confirm the limits are in micrograms not milligrams as reported in this article. Big difference.

Also what was the reason for the giant panic over microgram concentration as that's nothing. It could be higher than that.

Micro/milli isn't the only editing error, remuneration does sound like remediation though...

So if P inhalation is not harmful then why hasn’t this Mr Gluckman come forward before now and stated that there was no harm from inhalation of P???????

This is great news for state tenants, they can move back into P positive houses.

We should be eradicating P rather than saying that there is no harm from inhalation of P!

Because Mr Gluckman keeps reading your comments on this website.

Thankfully I am no expert on any part of P but I think Mr Gluckman’s use of the word passive, is his key point.

I think you are one of the most compelling arguments for the decriminalisation of cannabis that I have ever seen

Please try to read these articles a little better. The report is on whether contaminated houses are dangerous, not whether direct inhalation of methamphetamine is bad for you.

MFD you are obviously another one that knows all about the effects of P, whereas I don’t live in that circle!
By inhalation surely you are breathing in dangerous fumes from the pollution of home, just as you do with mould spores?

But you live in Christchurch.

The dose is important. Do you understand that directly inhaling is extremely different from picking up a few residual molecules that may have been stuck to your wall for a few years before deciding to make their way into your lungs? The report is very clear that contamination can cause harm, but our threshold is way way too low to be reasonable. Again, dose is important, which is why a Scientific process should be followed rather than a 'not one molecule' frenzy.

Hi The Man 2

Did you actually read the article?
Exposure to Meth in a contaminated house would typically come from absorption through the skin. Not sure how you expect tenants in a contaminated house to inhale the Meth. Do you think they are smoking the carpets and drapes?

MTP

Mrs The Point, firstly I don’t surround myself with P users and so I don’t confess to be an expert on the use of P, which you clearly are an expert on.

When I said inhalation, surely you are breathing in the P fumes or whatever, therefore inhalation, if I am wrong I bow down to,your expert knowledge of a drug that should be outlawed and manufacturers locked up and the key thrown away or even worse!

Whether they smoke the carpets and drapes I am not sure but what they are doing to themselves defies logic.

Hi The Man 2

News update for you. It has already been outlawed, quite some time ago. Please try to keep up.

MTP

Of course it is illegal but they do not come down hard enough on the firstly the cooks and then the users.
Users should be locked up in rehab, this is needed.
Cooks should be locked up and keys thrown away, that will be a big deterrent to other cooks and sellers!

Have you not seen the prison sentences being handed down to the importers of meth? It puts child murderer sentences to shame.

Sorry, but you can inhale meth fumes that then goes into your lungs according to Mr Google!!!

Sorry, you are just wrong. Don't try to blame Mr Google.

Not according to Mr Google, you can inhale the fumes into your lungs passively!

suggest read the post by mfd at 14.32, partic last paragraph.

dp

Thought experiment. House has wall residue @ x micrograms per square metre so what’s the airborne level? Picograms or femtograms per cubic metre? Whatever it is, it’s not dangerous and would exponentially decay with time. If you scrub the walls with sugar soap that would greatly speed up the process, and reduce exposure through direct wall contact. Either way zero danger. This was so obvious all along. Smoking the drapes! Lol :)

100% correct. Bleach is also a pretty good destroyer of almost everything. Just spray and walk away, Meth still dying.
For a property with higher contamination, encapsulation with airless spray painting will lock any contamination beneath the paint surface.

This may be the first positive move to impact property investors from the current government. (It may well be the only one in their 3-year reign.)

Wow, a bombshell, a different opinion and everyone's off the hook, a little meths fine, and no more financial losses - hey, maybe Climate change is next, wouldn't it be nice if that were PROVEN before we're all screwed by this government ....

AirBnB operators also at risk from meth contamination expense, as well as landlords.

So how many insurance companies and property owners have been scammed? Payouts to “clean” houses...

Law sues!?

There is a bigger picture here and further questions that need to be asked.

Science Advisor says Meth level too high, so now is safe to put back into circulation many houses.

Science Advisor says (on TV this morning) mould in houses is far more dangerous (ie is harmful to your health), Govt does not take any houses out of circulation.

To be consistent, let's put all the 'safe' meth houses back into circulation, and take out of circulation all the unsafe 'mouldy/leaky' homes and see where the numbers fall.

Also Gluckmans example of toddler on floor is an interesting one, household pollutant level at floor level is a lot higher that adult sitting level, plus is floor level is commonly sitting at temperatures of 12 degrees or less.

Not to mention the cigarette contaminated homes full off carcinogens

.

I suppose the big question is..would you move your family into one of these houses.

Yes, without question.

Do you step on cracks? Can be scary, right?

Yes, I would. Even the relaxed standards have a 1000 fold safety margin, i.e. contamination could be 1000 times higher and the impact on your safety would still be marginal. The risk is absolutely not worth considering and certainly wouldn't change my decisions.

If you were seriously taking risks of this magnitude as reasons not to take a certain action you'd never leave your house, and certainly never drive a car. People drive their children almost every day, despite the clear and measurable danger in this action.

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