Meth dispute: Experts argue if single mom is in contaminated apartment

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LITTLETON, Colo. -- A Littleton apartment is at the center of a strange methamphetamine dispute and whether it's contaminated or not.

Single mom Alicia Dawkins moved into the apartment in June not knowing about the unit’s conflicting history of meth exposure.

"I wouldn't have taken the apartment if I had known,” Dawkins said.

One expert said the unit on South Reed Street tested at eight times the state’s safety level for meth exposure. But another industrial hygienist hired by the property management company found only trace amounts of meth, well below the state safety standards.

Former tenant Frank Mencal moved his family out when he said the complex refused to decontaminate the apartment.

“Over the period of six months we suffered nonstop constant illness, respiratory, flus, colds ... it just seemed like we were in a toxic environment,” he said.

Neighbors told Mencal and his wife a former meth user lived in the apartment before them, which is why they hired industrial hygienist Caoimhin Connell to test the unit.

Differing test results

“It's contaminated property in my opinion,” Connell told FOX31.

His test results found meth levels of 3.8 micrograms, well above the state safety limit of .05 micrograms per 100 centimeters.

“To remediate that particular property you're probably looking at about $6,000 to $7,000,” Connell said.

The complex owner didn’t spend any money decontaminating the unit because legally he doesn’t have to if a different industrial hygienist gives the apartment a clean bill of health.

“(The property owner) has the option to do get a second opinion and then based on that determine what the course of action he`s going to need to take place,” said Craig Sanders with the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment.

In the case of the apartment on South Reed Street, the property owner hired a meth testing company called Quest.

“Took quite a few samples and they came back low, fairly low,” said Bob Woellner, the owner of Quest.

In its report, Quest found trace amounts of meth throughout the apartment, but nothing above the state’s safety level of .05 micrograms.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Dawkins, holding her 4-year-old daughter in her arms.

The new resident asked the Jefferson County Health Department who she should believe.

County said it's OK

Sanders said the county has decided the apartment is safe even though at one time it put placards in the window saying the apartment was “unfit for human habitation.”

Sanders issued a letter saying Dawkins is safe even though the apartment was never decontaminated.

Sanders is relying on the Quest report to decide cleanup standards have been met even though his letter includes a disclaimer saying the county has not verified “any of the submitted documents” from Quest.

"We`re not in the business of going through the consultant's report line-by-line to make sure they did what they actually did,” Sanders said.

Experts criticize each other

Caoimhin Connell and Bob Woellner accused the other of performing inadequate testing.

“In (the Quest) report, we identified 41 broad categories of regulatory violations,” Connell said.

But Woellner fires back.

“(Connell) was not following industry standard protocols. We (Quest) were,” quickly adding that it's safe for Dawkins to live in the apartment. "I think she's in great shape. There are not elevated levels of meth in that property.”

Former resident advises to move out

But the father who moved out said his family is no longer getting sick and has advice for Dawkins.

“Do everything in your power to have it third-party tested. Find another place to move, run away from this place as quick as possible,” Mencal said.

Dawkins has not had her apartment tested by a third industrial hygienist because she said she can’t afford it and the landlord won’t pay for it.

Expert files lawsuit

In the meantime, Connell is suing the state of Colorado, which has had him decertified as an industrial hygienist for the purpose of meth testing.

He said it’s retaliation for being a whistleblower, willing to call out other hygienists who he claims are incompetent.

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