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MTIANZ responds to peer reviewed report

MTIANZ welcomes the release of the report by The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, titled: Household Contamination with Methamphetamine: Knowledge and Uncertainties. This is a peer reviewed document, which holds unparalleled credibility internationally as the most recent assessment of available information.

The report is scathing towards the approach adopted by the New Zealand Government, and it raises some very valid concerns around the findings within the “Gluckman” report on Methamphetamine contamination (PMCSA Report), and the secrecy around the reports that informed its development, and suggests there is the potential for legal class action in the future. MTIANZ notes that the PMCSA Report is not peer reviewed and was published as a “report” only containing recommendations.

Within the Household Contamination with Methamphetamine: Knowledge and Uncertainties report, section 2 outlines a comprehensive assessment of variable international approaches towards methamphetamine contamination, the following comments are made in regards to New Zealand’s approach:
The PMCSA report indicates that it is preferable that residents are exposed to “low levels” (by which they mean <15 g/100 cm2) methamphetamine contamination in comparison to unstable public housing situations.
The PMCSA report has instigated major changes in the public housing sector, yet the public are unable to view or verify the research that is used to support these changes.
Many residents from social housing are disadvantaged and from lower socio-economic demographics. The social determinants of health have clearly demonstrated that lower socioeconomic groups suffer significantly poorer health outcomes compared with their richer counterparts.
The people in this demographic are less able to make their own decisions about whether to live in a contaminated environment as it is unlikely that they can afford the costs associated with testing and remediation.
The acceptability of exposing residents to “low” levels of methamphetamine contamination to avoid disrupting their housing arrangements is debatable and is a decision that needs to be made in light of all available evidence.
It is therefore unacceptable that much of the supporting report to the PMCSA report is redacted.
The safety factors and buffers that are used for California’s RfD and Colorado’s standard are also mentioned a number of times in the PMCSA report.
These safety factors are put in place for the purpose of addressing uncertainty in knowledge and protecting public health.
Therefore, it is concerning that there is no regard to the criteria presented in the New Zealand Standard (NZS 8510:2017), and instead, the report states that there is no health concern above 1.5 g/100 cm2, as there is already a built-in conservative safety buffer, and has therefore deemed that 15 g/100 cm2 can actually be considered safe.

The reports released from Ministry of Health, ESR and Standards New Zealand are voluminous. The conflicting reports are likely to cause confusion and uncertainty and could potentially increase mistrust in government and standardisation bodies that exist to provide support and structure for the general public. There is also the possibility that this could potentially lead to legal class action in the future (as happened with asbestos and glyphosate, for example).

The report concludes

Methamphetamine contamination within properties is a growing public health concern, particularly from former clandestine laboratories. There are currently research gaps in the areas of methamphetamine exposure levels and health effects, standard methods to determine contamination levels and remediation success. The body of research that is available often has conflicting conclusions, which serves to emphasise the complexity of the issue. Residues settle on surfaces; they can be absorbed, desorb over time, can have varied recovery rates and can remain embedded in surfaces for years. There are limited longitudinal studies that evaluate the long-term success of remediation treatments, and are highly varied recorded measurements for surface recovery, deposition and environmental samples. These variations create difficulties in the measurement of, estimated contamination of and exposure to methamphetamine. The lack of legislation and standardised methods creates diversity in methodology, mistrust in remediators from property owners and difficulties in maintaining consistency for law enforcement. There are also concerns relating to variation in training and the application of guidelines by regulators, commercial cleaning companies and homeowners. This is regardless of the state or country. The lack of conclusive current research supports the need for precautionary approach to be adopted. Further research to address these knowledge gaps and provide evidence for regulation to ensure public health protection is required.

This raises some significant concerns around the approach adopted by Housing New Zealand, the potential for legal class action, and the reliance on the PMCSA Report by the Tenancy Tribunal given the potential for significant miscarriage of justice for private landlords.

MTIANZ embrace and recommend a precautionary approach towards methamphetamine contamination, particularly due to the extent of unknown health effects requiring further research before a risk adverse approach is adopted. This peer reviewed report backs up the intention and application of the New Zealand Standard NZS8510:2017 and MTIANZ will continue to enforce the requirements within the New Zealand Standard and any current amendments until such time as Regulations are formed under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 section 138(c).

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