A septic tank had to be dug up, bedrooms gutted, land decontaminated and surfaces scrubbed.
Making the house, north of Sydney, habitable again after it was used for an elaborate meth lab was no small or cheap feat.
“That job was $250,000 by the time it was finished,” said Robert Gale, Sydney-based operations manager and hygienist.
This is a glimpse into the booming cleaning and remediation industry that has prospered on the back of Australia’s ice epidemic.
What used to be a niche market is now lucrative, with many businesses tuning their skills to take advantage of the upward trend in meth lab busts.
In 2013-14, 744 drug labs were busted across the country, almost double that of a decade earlier, according to the Australian Crime Commission.
Once a drug lab is uncovered, the local council is notified and it then falls to the homeowner to decontaminate it.
A hygienist is employed to swab the property and record the contamination levels before quotes are sought from remediation companies on what it will cost to make the place liveable again.
Ahmad Merhi has been in the meth lab cleaning business since 2010, when the workload was about five jobs a year. Now the company remediates an average of 100 drug labs annually across Australia and New Zealand.
The head technician from Living Fresh says clandestine labs aren’t found only in backyard sheds, kitchens and discreet rural blocks.
He recently cleaned a lab in an “elite class” apartment building, fit with a concierge, on top of a bustling Sydney shopping centre.
Thinking back on some of the worst cases he has come across, Mr Merhi remembers a house that had turned yellow from the iodine used in the chemical cocktail to manufacture methylamphetamine.
“There were Coke cans on the kitchen bench that were yellow,” he said.
“It was like someone walked into this house and spraypainted it.”
NSW Drug Squad Detective Inspector Michael Cook has noted a trend in labs popping up in Sydney’s rural outskirts, like Richmond and the Hawkesbury area, where they don’t attract much attention.
“It’s those semi-rural areas where there is a bit of space around the house, where you can come and go and don’t attract as much attention,” he said.
Some cooks go to unusual lengths to cover their tracks – like covering tap fittings and door handles in plastic to combat the corrosion – but it’s often the innocent homeowners left to grapple with the consequences.
At an elaborate lab the drug squad uncovered in Kenthurst a few years ago, chemical waste was being chucked over the back balcony onto the soil below.
“When the professionals came to do an assessment of what work needed to be undertaken, because it was a rented house and the owners were all paying for all of this, the report was about 50 pages,” Detective Inspector Cook said.
“And we were told the report itself cost about $20,000 before any work was done.”
Mr Merhi spoke of one man left with a $25,000 remediation bill after the tenant in the granny flat below his home produced meth and the chemicals seeped up through his wooden floorboards.
A quote from Living Fresh, which uses a decontamination foam over demolition, for a standard two-bedroom unit can range from $15,000 to $20,000. Quotes can go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars when demolition is involved.
“It’s very profitable,” Mr Merhi said of the industry.
That is on top of employing a hygienist.
Mr Gale said once contamination levels get into the 1000s of micrograms, “you just can’t clean it. It is very resilient.”
With an increasing number of current and new businesses seeking meth lab clean-up training, Scott McFadzen estimates there are now 50 companies in Australia equipped to do the job.
Mr McFadzen, the Specialised Cleaning and Restoration Industry Association (SCRIA) president, said five years ago there were only a handful of businesses equipped to clean drug houses.
Scientists at the University of Sheffield calculate that all of the UK’s high level nuclear waste from spent fuel reprocessing could be disposed of in just six boreholes 5km deep, fitting within a site no larger than a football pitch.
The concept – called deep borehole disposal – has been developed primarily in the UK but is likely to see its first field trials in the USA next year. If the trials are successful, the USA hopes to dispose of its ‘hottest’ and most radioactive waste – left over from plutonium production and currently stored at Hanford in Washington State – in a deep borehole.
University of Sheffield researchers are presenting the latest findings relating to these trials and new concepts for sealing the waste into the boreholes at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) conference in Charleston this week (April 13-16).
Professor Fergus Gibb, of the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering, explains: “Deep borehole disposal is particularly suitable for high level nuclear waste, such as spent fuel, where high levels of radioactivity and heat make other alternatives very difficult. Much of the drilling expertise and equipment to create the boreholes already exists in the oil and gas and geothermal industries. A demonstration borehole – such as is planned in the US – is what is now needed to move this technology forward.”
At the ANS conference next week, Professor Gibb, with co-researcher Dr Karl Travis, will be presenting modelling work carried out by the University of Sheffield team on the Hanford waste, which confirms that around 40 per cent of the waste, in terms of radioactivity, currently stored at the US site could be disposed of in a single borehole.
Fundamental to the success of deep borehole disposal is the ability to seal the hole completely to prevent radionuclides getting back up to the surface. Professor Gibb has designed a method to do this which he will be presenting at the conference next week: to melt a layer of granite over the waste, which will re-solidify to have the same properties as natural rock.
Professor Gibb’s colleague at the University of Sheffield, Dr Nick Collier, will propose a method of fixing and surrounding the waste within the borehole using specialist cements able to handle the temperatures and pressures at that depth.
Deep borehole disposal (DBD) has a number of advantages over the current solution envisaged for all UK nuclear waste, which is in a mined repository at 500m depth:
- DBD is effectively ‘pay-as-you-go’ disposal. A mined repository can cost from hundreds of millions to tens of billions of dollars to construct before any waste can be disposed of; DBD costs a few tens of millions of dollars per borehole.
- There are more geological sites suitable for DBD as the granite layer that is required can be found at appropriate depths under most of the continental crust.
- A borehole could be drilled, filled and sealed in less than five years, compared to the current timescale for a UK mined repository, which is to open in 2040 and take its first waste by 2075 (although a site has not yet been agreed).
- As DBD disposes of nuclear waste at greater depths and with greater safety and because there are more potential sites available, it should be easier to obtain public and political acceptance of the technology.
- DBD has limited environmental impact and does not require a huge site: the holes are a maximum 0.6m in diameter and can be positioned just a few tens of metres apart. Once a borehole is complete, all physical infrastructure on the surface can be removed.
- While seismic activity might damage the containers within the borehole, fracture the surrounding rock and disrupt some of the nearest barriers in the borehole, it would still not destroy the isolation of the waste or make it possible for radioactivity to reach the surface or any ground water.
The demonstration borehole in the USA will be drilled just under half a metre in diameter and trials will be conducted to ensure waste packages can be inserted into the borehole and recovered if required. Initial results are expected in 2016. If these results are positive, disposal of the Hanford waste capsules would then take place in another borehole, just 0.22m in diameter.
As more people get tattooed, more of those people regret having done so. The tattoo removal business is huge, generating around $75 million in the US alone. Laser ablation is the most common removal method, but now a 27-year-old PhD student in Canada has come up with a cream that promises a gentler, safer method to get rid of undesired tattoos.
Developed by Alec Falkenham, a PhD student in Pathology at Dalhousie University, the new removal solution is called Bisphosphonate Liposomal Tattoo Removal (BLTR).
The inspiration came from the body’s immune system and its reaction to tattoo ink. It involves the macrophages, white blood cells that eat foreign material to protect surrounding tissue from invaders. Known as the big eaters of the immune system, they consume the tattoo ink that settles into the skin.
In the case of tattoos, two types of macrophages go into action. One set takes part of the pigment to the draining lymph nodes, removing it from the area where it was applied. The other set that has eaten the pigment goes deeper into the skin and forms the visible tattoo.
Over time, the macrophages that form the tattoo are replaced by new ones, causing the design to fade and blur. BLTR homes in on the macrophages that contain the pigment, using a liposome created by Falkenham’s team. Liposomes are artificial vesicles often used as vehicles to administer nutrients and pharmaceutical drugs.
“When new macrophages come to remove the liposome from cells that once contained pigment, they also take the pigment with them to the lymph nodes, resulting in a fading tattoo,” says Falkenham. This also results in a more targeted removal process, with a smaller chance of affecting the surrounding cells that do not contain pigment.
Falkenham’s team used a similar composition to the cream to evaluate its effectiveness in vitro. Based on a tattoo of around 25 sq cm (nearly four sq in), the amount of the active drug was set at less than 1/1000 of the amount used in chemotherapy patients in a day.
Other tests identified seven days as the ideal interval for applications. By applying the cream twice at seven-day intervals the researchers obtained dramatic reductions in the amount of ink in the skin relative to control treatment, Falkenham tells Gizmag. The team will carry out further tests to evaluate the product.
At the time of writing this article, there was no estimate as to when a commercial version of the cream would be available, nor how much it will cost.
“In terms of making it in the lab, it costs us less than $4.50 for a treatment on a 100 sq. cm tattoo (around 15 sq. inches). We’d expect that cost to come down if we were to scale up for commercialization. As for how much someone would charge, it’s too difficult to speculate,” he adds.
Rozelle blast site: Kills 3 people.Investigation under way.Darling Street Sydney Australia out of bounds as asbestos slows investigation
Flowers are placed close to the explosion site in Rozelle as the main street remained closed on Saturday.
Police remain uncertain when the main road of Rozelle will reopen to traffic three days after a fire gutted an apartment building, killing three people including a one-year-old boy, as asbestos and blast damage slowed the police investigation.
Police said the blast had caused so much damage to a neighbouring building it will have to be torn down.
The criminal investigation has been delayed to allow removal of asbestos found in the wreckage of the apartment building, police confirmed on Saturday.