Oct. 23, 2012 -- An Oregon family who unknowingly bought a house that had been used as a meth lab is delivering a petition to Freddie Mac to require that the government-sponsored housing organization's homes be tested for methamphetamine residue before being sold on the market.
The Hankins family thought they had a good deal when they bought a foreclosed home in Klamath Falls, less than 20 miles north of the California border. A realtor showed them the home, which was sold through HomeSteps, a listing service for Freddie Mac. They purchased it for $36,500.
Jonathan Hankins, 32, and his wife, Beth, 29, started renovating the home in early June and moved into the two-bedroom 850-square-foot home before the end of the month.
After three weeks of living in their home, however, they started having severe headaches. Their 2-year old son also became sick, past the point of being just a moody toddler.
"We mostly experienced extreme dry mouth and had mouth sores, making it extremely painful to even drink water," Hankins said.
The family moved out of their home and stayed with Beth's parents for six weeks before renting a property 10 blocks away from their home.
"We like to keep an eye out on it," Beth, a nurse, said of their home.
The Hankins were not sure why they were sick until neighbors told them they suspected the home may have been a former illegal methamphetamine drug lab.
The couple said they contacted contractors who advised them to have the home tested for meth residue. They bought a kit for $50 and swabbed their home. After submitting their results to a lab, they learned that they had 38 micrograms of methamphetamine residue. The Oregon Health Authority's minimum to require a homeowner to clean up their home is 0.5 micrograms per square foot.
The family contacted Freddie Mac, trying to get answers about why they were not informed about the home's history. The problem is the local authorities did not contact the Oregon Health Authority, as is customary, because there were no recent drug-related enforcement actions related to the home.
"It's kind of sad," Hankins said. "It's a great block. It's one of those neighborhoods that went through a rough stage and it's on the upward swing. People are taking care of their yards and homes. Now it's another abandoned property."
The couple started a petition on Change.org to "stop selling former meth labs to unsuspecting buyers," garnering over 200,000 signatures.
They have also been on a national media circuit since earlier this month, trying to spread awareness about an issue that homes across the country have experienced.
A spokesman for Freddie Mac provided a statement to ABC News, saying they bought the home in an "as-is" condition.
"We empathize with the Hankins but neither we nor the listing agent had prior information about the home's history," the statement read. "If we had, such information absolutely would have been disclosed. We strongly encourage buyers to inspect homes and to conduct any tests they want to before making a purchase decision."
Freddie Mac said it encourages "home shoppers to see if the addresses of homes that interest them are on the registries state and federal agencies keep of known clandestine meth labs."
The federal registry can be found on the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) National Clandestine Laboratory Register website.
Freddie Mac also said "concerned home shoppers can also check an address with local law enforcement."
The Hankins deny that Freddie Mac encouraged them to test their home besides testing the structural integrity of the property. Their home is not on registries because there was no enforcement on the property.
After learning that thousands of homes across the country may also have been used for illegal drug production or the settings of heavy drug-use, the Hankins are planning to deliver a petition to Freddie Mac's New York headquarters to ask the organization to require testing of homes before they are sold.
The couple is also considering legal action.
The Hankins also reached out to lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who have expressed interest in Freddie Mac's response to the petition.
"This is one of those cases where common sense should prevail," said Tom Caiazza, a spokesman for Sen. Wyden. "It shouldn't take an act of Congress for Freddie Mac to figure out that it's not a good idea to sell homes that have been used to manufacture meth."
Brett Sherry, program coordinator for Oregon Health Authority's Clandestine Drug Lab program, said the number of homes that local authorities refer to him have fallen dramatically since the program started in 1990.
Police refer homes that were illegal labs for any number of drugs, though most -- Sherry says "99 percent" -- are producing methamphetamine.
Sherry said he does not have record of the Hankins' home.
"It's very possible the property was used for manufacture or meth use," he said. "If someone smokes methamphetamine, that can contaminate the surface with meth residue."
The busiest year was 2001, when the program saw tested 324 labs.
In the past three years, only 10 labs have been referred to the program per year.
So far this year, the program has been referred to 10 illegal labs, the most recent of which was noted on Monday. That lab was for dimethyltryptamine, another illegal drug that is growing in popularity.
There is no single common symptom if someone is sick from methamphetamine residue, Sherry said, but it is wise to get a home tested, if you suspect it is contaminated. Otherwise, a family could be exposed to any number of toxic chemicals, like sodium hydroxide, which is normally used in drain cleaners to dissolve materials.
"The example we typically use is a child crawling on floor," he said. "It's very easy for them to absorb methamphetamine residues."