Family Traces Mysterious Illnesses to New Home’s Previous Life as a Meth Lab

The Hankins family knew they were getting a fixer-upper; they had no idea their new home was toxic.

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Meth lab equipment

In small-town Oregon, one family discovered this summer that their newly purchased home was not only a bit shabby—it was also toxic.

For a while there, Jonathan Hankins and his family must have thought they’d gotten a pretty good deal. For $36,000, the 32-year-old purchased a previously foreclosed home in the small town of Klamath Falls, Ore., from the government sponsored lender Freddie Mac. Soon, however, they’d realize just what the true cost of the house was.  “We said, ‘It needs a little but of love, but it’s got good bones,'” Hankins said, according to Yahoo News. “We just had no idea that those bones were poisonous.”

Hankins’ wife experienced breathing problems only a few days after moving in, while Hankins himself began suffering severe headaches and nosebleeds. Their 2-year-old son, Ezra, developed mouth sores that were so painful he could not comfortably drink water. But just before scheduling doctor appointments, the Hankins family learned through a neighbor that their home on Radcliffe Avenue used to be a methamphetmine lab, Yahoo reports.

MORE: Couple and their baby fall ill after moving into a foreclosed home

The results from a $50 testing kit revealed that the building’s contamination levels were nearly 80 times higher than Oregon Health Authority limits, even though real estate agents and Freddie Mac had neglected to warn the Hankinses of previous drug activity. The family had opted not to pay for a home inspection, but a traditional examination still would not have identified the chemicals used to produce the dangerous drug, because meth is “an invisible toxin,” Hankins told Yahoo News. Although Oregon law requires sellers to disclose if properties have been used as drug labs, Freddie Mac spokesman Brad German told Yahoo News that the corporation was unaware of the house’s sordid past.

The Hankins quickly moved into a rental home, but their experience is far from singular. According to national statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, there were 10,287 reported clandestine meth labs in 2011 alone. The DEA’s National Clandestine Laboratory Register, which lists known meth houses, added 113,464 labs in less than ten years between 1999 and 2008, New York University’s reports. Even these figures, however, likely fail to reveal the full scope of the problem. Joe Mazzuca, CEO of the nationwide Meth Lab Cleanup company, told Yahoo that countless more home buyers could be at risk, as only one in 10 meth labs gets busted.

Although former meth houses can be cleaned, the Daily Mail reports that for the Hankins family, a clean-up would cost more than the house’s actual worth.

MORE: Mystery illness solved when family discovers new home was a meth lab