When Chris and Jenny Nugent bought their dream home in Indiana, they made sure to get the house inspected for mold and damaged pipes.
But they never imagined they would also need to have the house tested for meth contamination.
The Nugents said they used their life savings to take out a mortgage on the $144,000 cheery-looking home nestled on an acre of land in the quiet suburbs, enough room for them, their two young daughters and infant son. But after they moved in, they said everyone in the house started feeling ill.
“They were sick every week,” Jenny Nugent said. “They would wake up. Throw up. Have digestive issues and then by noon, 1 o’clock start to feel better.”
The Nugents said their daughters were missing school, the baby wasn't sleeping through the night, and even the family dog became ill and had to be put down. Jenny Nugent also said she noticed strange metallic smells around the house, especially in the kitchen.
“It smelled like a handful of change,” she said.
Jenny Nugent said a neighbor finally cracked the mystery, telling her she suspected the previous owner had cooked meth in the house. Nugent immediately got her home tested -- a simple procedure that costs $50.
“I am so grateful that we were fortunate enough to have really good neighbors," she said. "If it were not for them, we may have not known until one of our kids ended up in the hospital.”
After two tests, the results were horrifying. The Nugents said the downstairs floor had methamphetamine levels nearly 18 times higher than what’s considered legally safe, including the room where baby Mason had been sleeping for 10 months.
The family immediately moved out and eventually ending up in an apartment, but they said they felt forced to throw away most of their belongings for fear of contamination.
“Those test results came back, I remember that night we just pulled up in the driveway and were like, ‘we’re never going back in there other than to get our clothes,’ and we haven’t,” Chris Nugent said.
For Jenny, returning to the house is painful. She says she feels like she can’t even go inside without wearing protective gear.
“It feels like a death happened, to be honest,” she said. “That’s how it feels to my husband and I.”
When methamphetamine is smoked or cooked inside a home, invisible molecules of the drug sink into the carpet, walls and everywhere else, experts said. The meth residue is then inhaled or ingested, even absorbed through the skin. Exposure can cause symptoms like headaches, nausea and vomiting, according to the National Institute of Health.
To be able to re-sell the house and recoup their savings, the Nugents had to hire a professional cleaning team, Crisis Cleaning, who handle meth decontamination, something most home insurance doesn't cover.
“That’s something that’s happening even more than what I've ever seen before since I started doing this the last five years,” said Crisis Cleaning’s Donetta Held.
To decontaminate the Nugents house, the Crisis Cleaners cut out all the carpets, gave the house a professional vacuuming and then gassed it with a mix of potent chemicals that the cleaners say neutralize the meth particles. One pass-through is often not enough, sometimes they must de-contaminate a room several times. All in, the cost to clean the Nugents' home is expected to be about $10,000.
Crisis Cleaning says they offered to clean the Nugents' home pro-bono.
While this is a frightening scenario, the Nugents are not alone. Indiana was ranked number one in the nation in meth lab seizures last year, beating out Tennessee and Missouri, according to statistics that the Missouri State Highway Patrol complied from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure Report. Indiana State Police’s Meth Suppression Section said they conduct as many as four meth busts a day across the state.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” said Trooper Nate Raney. “Everything that we do is to try to stay one step ahead of them.”
To combat the meth house problem, the Indiana state police created an online registry that lists thousands of homes where meth or meth labs have been found, although they estimate that for every meth house they locate, two more are undiscovered. “We really don’t know how many meth labs are out there,” said Meth Suppression Section Commander Niki Crawford. “The problem is, when you find one that’s been thrown in a ditch somewhere, that meth lab was somewhere. Was it in a car? Was it in a hotel room? Was it in an apartment? Was it in a house? We don’t know.”
The best way to prevent a nightmare like the Nugent family's is to have a simple home meth test done on the house before you sign.
“Just do the meth test,” Jenny Nugent said. “It’s $50. It will give you peace of mind. ... That’s the best recommendation I could make to anybody.”
The Nugents are now suing the real estate agent, the real estate company, Carpenter Realtors, and the former owners of the house for breach of contract, claiming the agent who sold them the house, Lori Argue, knew meth was being used on the premises because the former owner is her son, Joshua Argue.
When contacted by ABC News, the attorney for Lori Argue and her company said, “There is simply no evidence that Lori Argue or any representative of Carpenter had any knowledge of methamphetamine use or contamination on the real estate,” adding that the buyers had an independent home inspection prior to purchasing the home. Read the full statement from Lori Argue's attorney HERE
Joshua Argue declined ABC News' request for comment, but his ex-wife Jelisa Argue told ABC News in a statement, “There was no meth being used or cooked in the house when I lived there; I’ve never used meth and I would never put my son or anyone else in that environment.”
She added that after she and her son moved out, her ex-husband remained in the house for almost two years. Read her full statement HERE.
“It causes a lot of anger. There are some days that are harder than others,” Jenny Nugent said. “I think what helps us get through a lot of the anger is the fact that we've had a lot of support from our friends and family.”