Methamphetamine labs appear to be on a sharp decline across Kern County.
That's the word from local narcotics officers and the Department of Environmental Health Services. However, meth use is still high and former labs can have lingering negative effects on the properties where they were found.
Undercover Bakersfield Police narcotics detective, William Hughes, has been busting up labs since the late 1990s.
"The level of exposure is minimal because the gas is so deadly," said Hughes.
When Hughes first began looking for labs, he says he discovered up to ten large labs every month. But in 2012, only two labs were found. He credits federal and state laws limiting the sale of chemicals needed to make the drug.
"Because those are controlled now, we don't see production in the state like we used to see. And, it costs the state thousands and thousands of dollars that is often time unrecoverable because these companies are forced to come out and deal with it," said Hughes.
Brian Pitts is the Chief Environmental Health Specialist with Kern County Environmental Health Services.
"The ones I recall rolling on, they would just be sloppy," said Pitts.
Pitts' department is first to clean up hazardous materials, including meth labs.
"Our team tells me that the last one they've done in a residence is probably a year and a half to two years ago," said Pitts.
But, narcotics officers say meth is still very prevalent. Instead of making it here, dealers are carrying it over the Mexican border, where substances needed to make it aren't banned. And, there's the danger of former meth labs.
Dave Knoeb is the President of the Bakersfield Realtors Association.
"If we are aware that the home was once used for manufacturing drugs, we definitely have to disclose that," said Knoeb.
Knoeb says homeowners must disclose if drugs were ever made on their property. The only exemptions are foreclosures.
"And, if you are buying an R.E.O. property, you have to get a home inspection. You just have to do it," said Knoeb.
Toxicologists say dangerous residue can linger in the walls, carpet, vents, any exposed surface for months or years if not properly cleaned. Homefacts.com shows all of the homes in Kern County, law enforcement has found meth labs in. Since they started tracking in 2004, there has been a steady decline, but 799 homes are on the list.
The renter of one listed home, where a lab was found in 2011, wouldn't go on camera. He said his landlord disclosed it, and all of the drywall was replaced. And, in the nine months he's lived there, no one living there has gotten sick.
But, experts warn of chronic exposure.
"Being exposed to a chemical for days, months, years might not manifest itself for a decade," explained Pitts. "I'd pretty much guarantee it that there are structures and probably homes and bedrooms that have had meth labs in them and we just don't know about them."
Pitts says while his department will do part of the clean up, it's ultimately the property owner's job to professionally clean the house up to state standards. That can run $5,000 to $25,000.
The best advice, if there's a suspicion, especially if the house you are looking at was a foreclosure or a former rental, get an inspection or call County Environmental Health Services to put you in contact with a residual drug testing company.