Rental home contaminated with meth forces tenants to move

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Three Bellingham college students were told to find a new place to live after the house they rented tested positive for methamphetamine, health officials said Friday.

The three students, all of whom attend Western Washington University, had been living in the home at 618 E. Myrtle Street for a couple of months when they began to feel dizzy and lethargic, said Jeff Hegedus, a supervisor with the Whatcom County Health Department. The students contacted the health department to ask that the home be tested, Hegedus said.

"In this case, you had renters who were so concerned that they wanted to spend $100 in a lab to find out if they had meth," he said. "They'd only lived there for two months. They wanted to know, and it's their right as renters."

A team from the health department swabbed walls inside the home using gauze and hexane, Hegedus added. Test results showed meth contamination at 1.3 micrograms per 100 square centimeters. The legal limit in Whatcom County is a fraction of that, at 0.1 micrograms.

A second test - done by a decontamination contractor - came back Thursday at 4.2 micrograms per 100 square centimeters, Hegedus said.

"Goodness gracious. That's incredible. I had no idea," said Olivia Theilemann, who has lived next door to the home for more than a year. "That really surprises me, especially because it was just three normal college girls that lived there."

Theilemann said her neighbors approached her a few weeks ago complaining of symptoms and wondering if she knew anything about the previous tenants. After the test results came back, she remembers them moving out quickly.

"They hightailed it out of there. They were not here long," Theilemann said. "It really surprised me because it was just three girls that lived there before those three girls and they just seemed super normal."

Hegedus said the house was marked "unfit for occupancy" and the owners told to hire a licensed decontamination contractor, which they did. The house will need to be inspected before new residents can move in.

"We get probably 15 or 20 of these (cases) a year," Hegedus said. "It's a significant enough concern that we're out there working with it, supporting people around it, on a daily basis."

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