ANDERSON, Ind. —
Broken windows and stripped vinyl siding mark an abandoned house in the 200 block of East 15th Street. Plastic numerals 2-1-7, the home’s only identifier, rest on a window sill near the front door.
House 217 isn’t exactly out of place in the neighborhood, which has been riddled with meth cooking. Many other homes slouch in various states of disrepair.
But this house has a dubious distinction. One of the largest meth operations in the city’s history was discovered there last year.
On Jan. 11, 2013, the State Police Meth Suppression Team from the Pendleton post found 21 “shake-and-bake” meth labs at 217 E. 15th St. They found meth and dozens of precursors.
The ISP had received a tip and obtained a warrant to search the home. When they got inside, troopers discovered enough explosive and toxic materials to jeopardize the surrounding neighborhood. It took nearly four hours to stabilize the scene.
After helping search and stabilize the home, meth team detective Rich Clay felt a burning in his throat from the chemical fumes he’d inhaled.
Christina Holland, who lives two houses down, said the bust at home 217 wasn’t a rare occurrence in the neighborhood.
She regularly sees police cars and hears sirens in the area. She’s not always sure what police are investigating, but she knows enough to be aware of the preponderance of meth houses in her neighborhood.
It’s an especially scary prospect for someone trying to raise a family. Holland lives with her husband, Andrew, and their 13-year-old daughter.
“We heard they were going to tear the house down,” Holland said of 217. “I think someone was over there trying to fix it up, too. Who can even live there now?”
To make a former meth house safe, a certified contractor must remove and replace all contaminated materials, from walls to carpet to air conditioning vents. Next, a certified industrial hygienist tests the home to gauge whether it can be inhabited or needs more cleaning.
Real estate agents are required to disclose it if meth has been produced in a home, but Clay said that such reporting is spotty, at best. The Indiana Legislature is currently considering a bill that would create an online registry of homes that have been busted for meth.
Exposure to meth residue can cause respiratory problems, and health officials say meth houses pose other threats to public safety. For example, squatters might enter abandoned meth homes, and children sometimes play around the structures. Insurance companies, generally, do not cover damage in cases involving illicit activity.
Ultimately, the community and taxpayers pay the price for meth labs, financially and otherwise, according to Clay.
Charlie Rhoads, who lives across East 15th Street from house 217, wants to stay clear of any home where meth has been cooked.
“The stuff they use to make meth, it goes into the walls and it stays there,” he noted. “Generally, the houses are unusable after that. Would I want to live there? No.”
Rhoads used to inspect homes for a city in Georgia. He learned to look for signs of past meth use.
“It’s everywhere. It’s up here; it’s down there,” Rhoads said. “... If I thought my grandson was involved with it, that would worry me.”
Rhoads’ grandson is 16-year-old J.C. Mitchum, who also lives in the neighborhood. Mitchum likes to ride his bike around the streets. He’s not ignorant to the presence of meth in the area.
“We’ve had all kinds of explosions and fires here in the past year. It’s because of meth,” Mitchum said. “There’s really nowhere you can go to get away from it, I think.”
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