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Three libraries near Denver tested positive for meth contamination. What happens next?

Remediating the problem can cost up to $100,000.

DENVER — Two of the three local libraries closed due to meth contamination are still closed.

The library in Boulder, the first to find meth contamination last month, is opening up some areas that have been cleaned but said other parts of the library will have to be demolished and replaced. 

What is the status of the libraries?

At the Bemis Public Library in Littleton, meth was detected on ventilation fans in the bathroom, according to a city spokesperson. While there haven't been reports of illness, the library remains closed as they expand testing to other areas of the library beyond the bathrooms. 

"We are trying to get guidance from our local and state public health agencies and environmental remediation companies, but this is kind of uncharted territory as to how to clean up contamination in a commercial building where meth was smoked or someone coughed, versus a building where it was manufactured," the spokesperson said.

"Once we get the rest of the building tested we'll have a better idea as to whether the contamination is confined to those areas or has spread elsewhere."

The Englewood Public Library isn't open either as they figure out the remediation plan. The library said meth contamination in the restrooms may be more extensive than other surfaces. 

As of Friday afternoon, all restrooms were still closed at the Boulder facility. The city is putting out bids for more remediation work and said they would have to demo and replace exhaust ducts and fans.

The majority of the library is open.  

"We did some initial remediation of some of the spaces outside of the restrooms. When we did our testing, it came down to all of our public restrooms [having] levels high enough that we would need to do remediation," Gordon Holman, the Boulder library's facilities maintenance manager, said

The library had one other area outside of the restrooms that required mediation.

"Just before the COVID outbreak, we did a remodel in our on our bathrooms and just for common ordinary cleaning, we chose surfaces that are easily cleaned and non-porous," Holman said, adding it's helped with meth remediation.

"Also, due to our ventilation systems working appropriately, most of the meth contamination was able to be pulled from the surfaces and out into the exhaust ducts above, so we will be able to clean all of the surfaces or most of the surfaces in the bathrooms themselves. But we will demo and replace all of our exhaust ducts and our exhaust fan," he said.

What goes into remediation?

Tom Koch is a certified industrial hygienist with the Vertex Companies. 

"I've trained every single person in Colorado who is certified," Koch said.

He gets called out pretty frequently for meth remediation and said demolition work can be required if meth is produced inside a particular building, putting chemicals into the air. The decision could also be based on the level of cleaning required, how much remediation costs versus demolishing and the state of the building or home.

"Well, I think a lot of times, taking the house down to the studs, is probably more due to if they were doing manufacturing of meth, so that they're producing all these volatile chemicals that get into the air," Koch said. 

In other cases, like if someone is using meth inside the library and the contamination is contained to certain areas, those sections are blocked off and properly cleaned to meet state standards. Koch said they should be OK to open back up to the public after that cleaning.

"I believe so," said Koch. "Yes. And I think our regulations in Colorado are fairly robust." 

Boulder reopened parts of the library while they continued meth cleanup and cordoned off any contaminated areas. 

Koch said as long as these areas are properly sealed off from the public with plastic containments, it should be fine. 

However, testing and remediation are expensive. Koch said fixing the problem can cost anywhere from $20,000 to as high as $100,000 in some cases. 

There are also a very small group of people working on meth remediation. There are four instructors, 30 to 40 consultants and half a dozen contractors who can do the cleanup work.

Public health risk

Across the board, remediation experts and ER doctors who spoke with 9NEWS said they weren't surprised at the number of libraries testing positive for meth contamination. 

Dr. Eric Hill, with the Medical Center of Aurora, said it might seem more shocking because it's making headlines right now, but it's an issue he's long been aware of. 

"I mean, we've, we've known in emergency medicine that certainly illicit drug use does happen in public areas, buses, libraries. So, that's that gas station bathroom," Hill said. 

"You should not feel like you can't access a public library because of this risk," he added. "Because this is something that was the same risk that was there." 

Hill also said the health risks from secondary exposure to meth should be relatively low. 

"So, I think overall, the risks are low," he said. "I think I would classify the risks in two different kinds of categories. One is, if you're around someone who's actively using it, primarily the way you're gonna get exposed to methamphetamines is either by inhalation in a gas form if they were smoking it, or by some kind of a ingestion."

"The inhalational one is something you're really kind of around in that area, when it's actively happening. It's not gonna stay in the air a whole long time," he explained. "Certainly, the more confined space environment, it is a bathroom. If someone had just smoked it, and you walked into the bathroom right when it happened, you might get some symptoms from that. If it's if it's hours later, days later, the risk is probably negligible.

"The second one is the ingestion. I mean, the methamphetamine is a chemical. So it's not like a virus. It will stay on the surfaces for a long time. And so potentially, yes, that if there was methamphetamine residue on a surface, like a countertop or a handle and you were to touch it, even days later, you could ingest it, the amounts are gonna be relatively small. But you could get develop some symptoms from it -- certainly not nearly as much as the one who was actually using the methamphetamine."

Hill said they haven't seen an influx of patients from secondary exposure. 

Both Englewood and Littleton said no one has reported any health concerns. 

In Boulder, two security guards reported feeling lightheaded after walking into the bathroom and being exposed to fumes and smoke, but they haven't heard from anyone else.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Boulder shared: 

"During the first incident, six staff members entered the restroom and were exposed to smoke and fumes. Two security guards who had entered first reported feeling lightheaded. The four additional staff who had entered the restroom felt no symptoms.  Paramedics checked out all six staff members within minutes of the exposure and reported that all six had normal vital signs and no apparent symptoms of exposure to narcotics. Following this incident staff were instructed not to enter the bathrooms until the smoke had time to clear and the air could cycle through - approximately one hour. Once this hour had passed, staff equipped with masks and gloves entered the bathrooms to clean all surfaces prior to admitting staff or the public to enter and use the bathrooms."

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