Homebuyers, renters and landlords could use the kits to test for illicit substances in their properties. (ABC News: David Hudspeth)
Would you like to know if the property you were about to move into had been used as a drug lab?
- An Adelaide researcher has developed swab kits to detect illicit drug residue in commercial and residential properties
- The kits can be developed to test up to 50 substances including methamphetamine, ice, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin
- The Real Estate Industry of Australia said it would support the idea
Last week, the National Wastewater Analysis Drug Monitoring Program report revealed Adelaide has the biggest capital city ice problem.
Now, an Adelaide-based company is set to launch a new test which could give buyers, renters and landlords extra peace of mind.
While it’s not the first company to conduct meth testing in homes in Australia, it hopes to train industry professionals — including real estate agents — to collect samples using the kits.
What is the test?
Dr Len Turczynowicz is an Adelaide-based researcher in exposure science with more than 30 years’ experience in public health toxicology.
He’s also the director of Swab First, which will provide illicit drug residue screening for commercial and residential properties.
“We’ve been looking at this issue for a number of years and we identified there are a number of areas that could be improved,” he said.
“As a result of that process we’ve given some consideration to a screening method approach that will enable a wider range of drugs to be looked at and also something that embodies a very simple approach.
“What we’re looking to do is provide these sampling kits and we will train the people in their use, so we’re looking at operating this process through the Real Estate Institute and other organisations like that.”
Dr Turczynowicz said the increased prevalence of drug use in the community was creating health risks, with children particularly susceptible to ingesting the invisible residue.
“The people that are most susceptible of course are young children who can crawl around [have] and hand to mouth activities and can ingest these materials in dust and carpets where they may reside,” he said.
“There’s a range of acute health effects.
“These are very nasty substances and they can have very fast short-acting effects which are basically central nervous system type effects and we have had cases of people being hospitalised as a result of these types of exposures.”
What kind of substances can it detect?
Dr Turczynowicz said the testing kits could be developed to detect nearly 50 substances.
“We’ve structured up for seven different substances including methamphetamine, ice, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin but we’re able to expand that to up to 47 different substances as we need to,” he said.
“We’re looking at [rolling] out in about a week or two, we’ve had preliminary discussions with some of the major people in the industry and in particular those people that have property management requirements and undertake those sorts of activities.
“People who might want to buy a property might be interested to know whether there are any residual materials in the house before they purchase it, because the consequences of that of course are the potential substantial remediation costs.
“There have been cases of the houses being demolished because the decontamination has been so expensive.”
Does the real estate industry support the push?
While he didn’t know much about Adelaide’s company’s testing kits, Real Estate Industry of Australia (REAI) president Malcolm Gunning said he would certainly support the idea.
“If it was a fool-proof type system then that’s certainly not a bad thing,” he said.
“If it’s a simple test and it works then we would look at the next step which would be to have it checked.”
Mr Gunning said while he had reservations about how the testing kits would be implemented, he understood the importance.
“While real estate agents are not engineers or builders, if they expect asbestos to be present in the house then they would seek clarification and the same thing could apply for drugs or substances,” he said.
“In principle the REAI would support testing for drug contamination in housing as we now know it’s a growing epidemic in the industry.”
Malcolm Gunning from the Real Estate Institute of Australia says he would support the technology. (ABC News: Sue Lannin)
He said training agents would be important and it would be “no different to agents checking balconies, pool locks and blind cords in the house” and “could be implemented as a part of the building inspection report”.
“It certainly has merit and the institute would be supportive, but I don’t think it should be just up to the agent to conduct these tests,” he said.
“Testing should be affordable, no different to checking the dampness in walls and things like that.
“If it came back positive then it should go to an expert to check it on its merits.”
Potential solution for an international issue
Dr Turczynowicz said the technology would also give tenants added peace of mind before moving into a new property and he hoped the kits could become commonplace in the industry.
“I think the issue really stems from the fact that there needs to be a concentrated effort in looking at these issues more seriously,” he said.
“There are a range of activities being undertaken by federal and state governments and I think there’s an opportunity to refine the process as we have done with our company and actually promote areas of research that then could be applied in trying to resolve the problem which is actually an international problem.”