Contamination clean up a priority for public housing
OKMULGEE—A public meeting was held on Jan. 25 to provide information to the public about hazardous substance cleanup in the housing units located at MCN Okemah, Taylor, Cructhmer, Eufaula, Checotah low rent housing property, and Okmulgee Elderly Housing.
The meeting was held at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Housing building to discuss the topic with citizens.
So far, thirty units of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s low rent housing and elderly housing have tested positive for having a level of methamphetamine contamination.
While meth doesn’t seem like a typical problem that would be discovered in elderly housing, the experts say it is generally the product of someone in elderly housing who has a younger relative visit the home.
According to Director of MCN Environmental Services James Williams, testing to discover the level of contamination in recently vacated housing units began in August.
As the people moved out of the housing units, tests were conducted inside the dwellings that alerted staff to various levels of contamination.
“We use a particular test strip when it comes into contact with these dangerous chemicals that permeate porous surfaces,” Williams said.
He explained that some units were affected more than others.
For example, if a person just used the substance in a bathroom, it would be as concentrated as if a person produced or cooked the substance in the kitchen.
“There are three levels of contamination,” Williams said. “Each level calls for a different level of action to make the housing unit fit for people to live in again.”
Williams said that it’s essential to identify this type of contamination because it can affect a person’s respiratory wellness or if the chemicals come in contact with skin it can cause irritation.
“Most of the units that tested positive for contamination were what we consider a Tier 1 contamination,” Williams said. “That level most likely occurred by someone using the substance, generally in a contained area like a bathroom.”
Williams said that a tier 1 contamination is handled with a thorough cleaning. It’s not a large cost investment or as lengthy of a process as a higher level of contamination would be.
However, there are at least five units with more severe contamination that will require more extensive rehabilitation.
MCN Housing began looking for funding sources to handle the cost of contamination clean up. One option they looked into was a brownfield cleanup grant.
“Our environmentals were more extensive than the brownfields grant required, which is often the case when properties are put in trust,” said Housing Administrative Manager Thomas Harjo.
“The environmental studies we do are extensive which is a good thing,” He said. “Now instead, we will just use our budgeted funds.”
He said that just because the grant didn’t fit the tribe’s needs, didn’t mean the clean up would be any less thorough.
“It might take a little more time, but we will have the units completely rehabilitated,” Harjo said.
He estimates the cost for the highest level of contaminated units will be $40,000.
“The bad thing with this kind of contamination, there is very little regulation,” Harjo said. “But we want to provide safe and healthy homes, even if it takes a little longer.”
Currently, no regulations are requiring that these types of tests are done on rental properties. A landlord of a rental property isn’t required to report methamphetamine contamination.
“But we are going above and beyond that standard here,” Harjo said.
For the average person who is left to navigate housing outside of the tribe, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is responsible for tracking properties used as meth labs.
Renters can call your local law enforcement agency to confirm that a seizure of chemicals took place on the property, and to obtain the name of any hazardous materials contractor who may have removed materials. The contractor should have a list of what chemicals were present.