A 2nd Colorado library is closed due to meth contamination : NPR

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Signs are placed on the exterior doors of city hall to alert visitors that the library and restroom are closed due to meth contamination in the southern suburb of ‘ Denver of Englewood, Colo.

David Zalubowski/AP

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Signs are placed on the exterior doors of city hall to alert visitors that the library and restroom are closed due to meth contamination in the southern suburb of ‘ Denver of Englewood, Colo.

David Zalubowski/AP

For the second time in as many months, a library in Colorado has temporarily closed its doors to clean up meth contamination.

The Englewood Public Library in Colorado said it closed its doors last Wednesday after tests showed exhaust vents reflected meth contamination “with levels above state limits.”

This comes a few weeks after officials in Boulder, about 35 miles northwest of Englewood, closed their main library in December because of drug contamination. The Library reopened on January 9, but the bathrooms will remain closed to visitors.

The tests taken in Englewood on January 6 were done as a proactive measure after the reports from Boulder, the city said in a press release. These test results also showed that the bathrooms “exceeded state limits for methamphetamine contamination.” Other spaces in the library reflected lower levels of contamination, but will still require specialized cleaning, according to the city.

The American Library Association told NPR in a statement that it is aware of both incidents. “We are not aware of this issue occurring anywhere else in the country, currently or in recent years.”

Because the contamination occurred in a public library, cleanup efforts are likely to be extensive and a lengthy process, an expert told NPR.

“In most cases, it’s always doable. There’s always a way to decontaminate. As far as the scope goes, it all depends on what the levels are [of contamination] they are,” said Joseph Mazzuca, operations manager for Meth Lab Cleanup Company. His company is in 41 states and is a certified meth cleanup contractor in the state of Colorado.

Mazzuca shared with NPR what this process might look like.

Why is specialized cleaning necessary?

Meth is highly addictive stimulant which can be ingested by smoking, snorting, swallowing a pill, or injection.

But it is it’s not clear whether members of the public who went to the library are at serious risk of health problems, said Chelsea Shover, assistant professor in residence at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“Nobody says it’s healthy or good for you,” she said.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse give advice that researchers aren’t sure if secondhand smoke from meth can have health effects or give people a high. However, the organization says, people who are exposed to secondhand smoke can test positive for meth afterward.

“There is no clear scientific standard for identifying an unhealthy level of secondary exposure to meth. Research shows, however, that health risks are more significant after long-term exposure to high levels of contamination, especially for infants, young children, and people with existing health conditions,” Boulder County Public Health officials he said in a letter inform the public about the health risks resulting from meth residues in their library.

What is the cleaning process?

Regardless of how unclear the science is about the risk of second-hand meth exposure to the public, a robust cleanup is absolutely necessary under Colorado law.

The regulations state that meth limits cannot exceed o.1 microgram. If a property owner finds that the test results show that amount or higher, they must undergo decontamination efforts.

The other option is to have them undergo a “full clearance sampling protocol” – essentially, more testing.

It is unclear what level of meth was registered at the Englewood Public Library. The city said of the test results: “The tests show contamination, but there is no way to determine if the contaminated residue found is recent or has been present for a longer period.”

Colorado is “strictly regulated” compared to other states, which have different levels of what is considered safe for the public, Mazzuca said.

There are meth contamination cleanup specialists all over the country. Each state, including Coloradocompiles its lists of these contractors who can take on this work.

So far, Englewood said remedial work will include removing any contaminated surfaces, walls, HVAC ducts and exhaust fan equipment.

This will take some time, Mazzuca said. The first step for the contractors selected for this work will be further testing to determine how extensive the cleanup efforts will need to be.

Mazzuca was tight-lipped about what exactly his company does to eradicate traces of meth from spaces. This is technically a company secret. State rules do not say how this needs to be done.

“In the state of Colorado, the regulations are very strict where our goal is to physically remove methamphetamine contamination from surfaces and reduce it to acceptable levels. That’s our goal,” he said. “That’s very hard to do with methamphetamine. Very hard.”

What might this say about broader issues of meth use in the United States?

A bag containing crystallized methamphetamine and a homemade pipe.

Matt York/AP

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A bag containing crystallized methamphetamine and a homemade pipe.

Matt York/AP

Englewood Public Library says some staff and patrons have reported an increase in drug activity at the library in recent months.

The tests were initially conducted in Boulder because staff there had also repeatedly reported suspected drug use in the library.

Mazzuca and Shover said these two locations in Colorado are a microcosm of the growing trend of meth use and decontamination needs in the United States

Boulder County reported a dramatic increase in the number of properties affected by methamphetamine in Boulder County over the past six years.

And in 2021, the deadliest year in the US for drug-related deaths, most overdoses were from meth and fentanylKCRW reported.

“We definitely have evidence that there is more meth use,” Shover said. “The other thing that’s happening is that we’re seeing an increase in meth use in parts of the country where it used to be pretty rare,” like the Northeast.

Mazzuca has been in the business for 20 years and has seen the cycles go up and down.

“It’s been pretty slow for the last 18 to 19 months and for the last month and going, it’s off the charts,” he said, regarding calls to his business.

He believes part of that reason is long-abandoned properties that were once used as meth labs several years ago are being bought and resold, so they need to be cleaned up.

“We are seeing a lot of this. In the last two months alone, we are receiving calls from places we haven’t had calls in two years,” he said.

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