Meth level confusion

In New Zealand, methamphetamine is available in two main forms: a powder and a crystal 'rock'. PHOTO: NZ Police

Southland's councils are responding differently to the national confusion around acceptable thresholds of meth contamination in a home.

In May the Prime Minister's chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman released a bombshell report that put the acceptable level of methamphetamine contamination in a home into question.

It concluded New Zealand's clean-up standard of 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimetres shouldn't be regarded as signalling a health risk — that standard was only appropriate for former meth labs. 

Instead it concluded a much larger 15 micrograms per 100 square centimetres was unlikely to pose a threat.

There had been huge costs to homeowners, landlords, and the state not only of testing and remediation but the unnecessary stigma of contamination, for example on a LIM report (Land Information Memorandum), often based on little or no actual risk, the report said.

Since then the Southland District Council and Gore District Council have changed how they tag homes with low levels of contamination in their property files, while the Invercargill City Council is waiting for additional information.

Southland District and Gore councils will no longer tag houses contaminated below the new recommended threshold (15mcg/100cm2) in their LIM reports. However, the two councils are still following the New Zealand standard threshold (1.5mcg/100cm2) when it comes to meth labs in homes. 

The new findings came out the very day an ICC committee was set to review a policy around how staff responded to a meth contamination notification.

Committee minutes say Cr Karen Arnold suggested the ICC not go any further down the track until there was greater understanding of it. 

ICC legal Advisor Michael Morris said councillors decided the proposed policy should be adopted as "staff procedure" instead.

This means all information held by the council about a property is disclosed on a LIM, including information about the level of contamination and results after being decontaminated. 

"We expect the agencies that will report to this will have adopted their own guidelines on when to report this and at what level of contamination," he said.

"This is a complicated area at this time, as we await further guidance from Central Government and/or the change to the NZ Standard. 

"The evidence and information that was used to develop the standard has now been debunked by Sir Peter's report. This will lead to changes and we are awaiting these."

In practice, however, the impacts of these changes appear to be minor. 

The Invercargill and Gore councils said they were not aware of tagged contaminated properties, and the Southland District Council was aware of one property where meth was both manufactured and used, which would still be tagged in its LIM report.

However, the indecision around an acceptable level of meth contamination in homes is causing confusion for home buyers and sellers. 

Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) chief executive Bindi Norwell said there was no one set of standards that councils and government departments were currently using around the country.

REINZ was also waiting for the Housing and Urban Development Minister to issue his public consultation document on meth regulations, which was expected later this year.

In the meantime, the institute recommended purchasers do their own due diligence — read the Gluckman report, the Real Estate Authority's guidance for consumers and the NZ Standard, and take legal advice on the issue when purchasing property.


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