South Coast woman forced to abandon home contaminated by meth

Veronica Rawlinson wants other tenants to know they can get their home tested if it's suspected a previous occupier used the drug ice. Picture: Madeline Crittendon
Veronica Rawlinson wants other tenants to know they can get their home tested if it's suspected a previous occupier used the drug ice. Picture: Madeline Crittendon

A tenant on the NSW South Coast claims she was forced to abandon her possessions after residue of the drug ice was detected in her home, and wants testing mandatory for landlords.

Pensioner Veronica Rawlinson moved into a property in Nowra last March and began to notice a number of persistent skin irritations.

At first she thought it was to do with lupus, the chronic autoimmune disease she suffers from, but after several months she started to think it was something more sinister.

I joke that I left with my cats and a handbag but that really was pretty much it.

Veronica Rawlinson

“They were sort of an itch, but more like sunburn,” she said.

In September she contacted Meth Detection Australia to run swab tests on her home and soon discovered everything – from the carpets to the cushions on her couch and the pillows she slept on – were contaminated by methamphetamine.

“The result came back positive but I was pretty naive and thought we could fix the contamination,” she said. 

“That’s not how it works though. I had to leave pretty much everything I owned, and was told to triple wrap everything and bury it.

“I joke that I left with my cats and a handbag but that really was pretty much it.”

Meth Detection Australia confirmed their swab tests returned a positive result.

Ms Rawlinson is now pursuing compensation through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

“[I don’t want] people to have this to happen to them in the future, especially people with small children and who [might be] trying to start a family,” she said.

Greg Flood, owner of Cordeaux Heights-based building and pest inspections BPI, has been conducting swab tests on residential properties for about 18 months.

He said they were not a common request and has only had two which returned positive, but said the clean-up bill for the home-owner could be quite high.

“It doesn’t go away it’s so toxic,” Mr Flood said. “Once the chemical impregnates itself into the porous building material you can’t get rid of it and remains toxic for years – unless it’s chemically treated and resolved.”

The only way to make a home safe again, he said, was to dispose of all soft furnishings (including carpet) and get the house forensically cleaned and treated, which could cost up to $50,000.

He said warning signs for landlords to look for were empty plastic bottles littering years, burnt material, burnt bottles and wrapping papers from chemicals.

“In terms of health issues, mainly children that seem to pick up side effects because they’ve got such young lungs and skin so susceptible to irritation,” he said. “Skin irritations, coughing, irritability would be a sign and some people put it down to mould.”

Research from South Australia’s Flinders University found third-hand exposure to methamphetamine (commonly known as ice) can have detrimental effects.

A 2016 study, Exposure and Risk Associated with Clandestine Amphetamine-Type Stimulant Drug Laboratories, found people who were exposed to contamination in properties purchased or rented,  particularly for young children, resulted in adverse health effects.

Currently landlords in New Zealand and the UK are required to carry out testing for potent drug residue in properties. 

Though there’s no cause for concern now – especially in the Illawarra – it may be something Australian governments may need to look at in the future, according to Real Estate Institute Illawarra chairman Trever Molenaar said.

“In the Illawarra we don’t know that we’ve got this problem yet but we’re trying to think, I guess, before it actually becomes a problem,” Mr Molenaar said.

“I don’t think there’s enough cases for us to be up in arms and worried just yet … however, it’s something that needs to be looked at and addressed at more of a government area.”