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The test homebuyers almost never do, but should

When the Nugents bought their dream home, they had no idea it had methamphetamine levels 18 times the legal safe limit

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INDIANAPOLIS – Last year, Chris and Jenny Nugent found their dream home: a light blue, two-story house with a long front porch and an enormous yard for their kids on a secluded 2 1/2 acres west of Indianapolis.

At a cost of $144,000, they weren't taking any chances. They tested the water and checked for termites, lead and radon.

“We did everything,” Chris Nugent recalled.

Almost everything. The Nugents didn’t test for methamphetamine.

When the Nugents and their three young children moved in, Chris Nugent began repairing holes in the drywall, putting in new wood floors and creating a master suite on the second floor for his two daughters, Jaylin and Kaily.

The two Nugent daughters started to get sick so often they missed an average of one day of school a week.
The Nugents

The family also began getting sick. Jenny Nugent said they experienced shortness of breath, wheezing and headaches. The girls started vomiting with alarming frequency, she said, missing an average of a day of school each week. Their baby, Mason, who was crawling, had diarrhea for a month and a half, she said.

And as they got to know their new neighbors, the Nugents said, they began hearing things that made them suspect the previous resident had cooked meth in their dream home.  There were also strange stains on the walls, and nothing would stick to the drywall.

“All these things started piecing together,” Jenny Nugent explained.

This spring, she purchased a $50 meth test kit on the Internet. The first test showed methamphetamine levels three times over the legal safe limit. Subsequent tests in different parts of the home showed levels as high as 18 times the legal safe limit.

“The first one came in, and we were just, 'We’ve got to get out here. This is insane,'" Chris Nugent said. So the Nugents left almost everything behind and moved, first to a hotel and then to an apartment a few miles away.

They didn't have much of a choice. Cooking methamphetamines produces an invisible toxic gas that gets into ductwork and can penetrate drywall, appliances, carpets, furniture, toys, clothes.

Living in a home contaminated by meth can be devastating to one’s health, not to mention the financial toll it can take. And it's more common than you might think.

‘It’s everywhere’

Donetta Held, who owns Crisis Cleaning – based in Bloomfield, Indiana, and serving six Midwestern states – has been decontaminating meth houses since 2007.

“You’ve seen the "Faces of Meth," what happens to a person who takes the chemicals inside of their bodies and see how it is deteriorating the body itself. It’s doing the same thing to the home," she explained. "It’s making the home very sick with toxic chemicals on the walls, on the carpet and through the ventilation systems."

She said meth-contaminated houses come in all types and sizes.

“We’ve gone into some beautiful, high-dollar, half a million-dollar homes that you would not believe there was meth there. And there is. It’s everywhere,” Held said.

There are no hard figures on how many homes are contaminated with meth, but the advocacy website Meth Lab Homes estimates there are 2.5 million American homes contaminated with meth. And there is a growing patchwork of data that helps illustrates its wide scope.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has a national map of clandesting meth lab seizures in each state since 2012.

Earlier this month, Indiana State Police began posting the addresses of all clandestine meth labs online. In 2013, they found 1,721 clandestine labs, more than any other state, according to First Sgt. Niki Crawford, who runs the Meth Suppression Section.

But for every clandestine lab police discover, three more escape detection, Crawford estimates.

The Nugents’ house was one example. State police were never called to the home and its former owner was never charged with any drug-related offense.

Lasting impacts

The Nugents are now living in an apartment, as they pay to decontaminate their home. The ordeal has wiped out their savings.
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Chris Nugent, a Marine Corps veteran, works as a surveyor. His wife, Jenny, a former probation officer, was staying home with the children.  Fleeing their home has been financially devastating.

“We’ve lost everything,” he said “We put a lot into the home, but after we had to move out and go to the hotel, we just started cashing everything out.”

“It was heartbreaking,” she added. “We had so much security and then it was just wiped out within the matter of a year.”

Decontaminating a meth home can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000, or even more, depending on the extent of the damage. But after a local news story aired about the Nugent family, Crisis Cleaning offered to decontaminate their home for free. The Nugents will still need to replace carpet, appliances, decorations, toys and other possessions.

The ordeal has drained more than the Nugents’ savings. It’s also taken an emotional toll as the couple fears the exposure to meth residue will have lasting health effects on their children, especially Mason, who was crawling, not walking, when they lived there.

“I try to think positive about it. That it’s going to be fine. That we weren’t in here too long for him to have long-term exposure, but at the same time I know 10 months in that world can have long-term impact,” his mother said. “Because he inhaled it. Got it all over his skin. He was putting it in his mouth. So I know he got it at the most extreme levels out of everybody.”

Research shows long-term exposure to meth lab residue can be toxic.

“Chronic exposure to residual meth lab chemicals can cause cancer, damage to the brain, liver, and kidneys; and reproductive problems,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Getting justice

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When the Nugents realized their home was contaminated, they said they filed an insurance claim with Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance. Their claim was denied, they said, because of an exclusion for environmental pollution.

The company declined to comment on the Nugents’ policy or claim, citing client privacy.

The Nugents have now filed suit against Joshua Argue, his ex-wife Jelisa Argue, his real estate agent Lori Argue, who is also his mother, and her company, Carpenter Realtors. The Nugents are claiming breach of contract and fraud.

On the sellers’ disclosure statement, the "no" box is checked next to the question: “Have there been or are there any hazardous conditions on the property?”

“They knew that at the time we were bringing in an 8-month-old and two little girls, and sat there and just lied,” Chris Nugent said.

America Tonight was unable to reach any of the Argues, but Carpenter Realtors President David Caveness gave this statement:

“The agent was aware her son had a substance-abuse problem. Our agent has assured us she had absolutely no prior knowledge of her son's alleged manufacture of meth within the subject property. As she has stated to us, if she had known meth was being manufactured in the property, she would never have allowed her grandchildren to live in that home.”

State Police arrested Joshua Argue in February for an alleged role in a stolen car parts ring.

Held of Crisis Cleaning and Crawford of the Indiana State Police both recommend testing for meth before buying a home.

Held said once the decontamination is complete at the Nugents’ house and the walls primed with a special sealer and painted, the family will have nothing to worry about. The Nugents say they’re not sure if they’ll ever have peace of mind in the home.

Most of all, the Nugents say they’re hoping to avoid bankruptcy so they can put the ordeal behind them.

“I want my life back," Jenny Nugent said. "I want my kids’ life back.”

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