In 2006, Julie McCoy Sabatino bought a small two-story house in Churubusco, Indiana, an affordable home where she dreamed of happy days together with her 10 year old son. But, health problems began, just a few weeks after moving in to the home, when both she and her son began experiencing flu-like systems. They began having body aches, headaches, and respiratory problems that triggered her son’s asthma, requiring that he use a nebulizer to open up his airways, just so he could breath normally.
Other health problems began for the Sabatino family, that they hadn’t had before moving in to the home, as well. Julie began experiencing tingling and numbness in her hands, arms, legs, and feet. The numbness got so bad, Julie says, that she could no longer hold on to anything with her left hand. Her hands and feet are always cold now too, she says, no matter what the weather is like.
The effects of the toxins in the house were also effecting their ability to keep their balance and their ability to concentrate. Julie says that both she and her son were becoming more “clumsy”. Her son also began falling down a lot, a problem that his mother says that he didn’t have before moving in to the house.
Julie and her son sought the advice of doctors, after Julie became increasingly concerned about their unusual health problems. Although doctors noted their symptoms, they were unable to determine what was causing their illnesses. Julie’s doctor guessed that her health problems could have something to do with her job Bluffton Rubber Company in Churubusco. Julie quit her job in an effort to regain her health, but her health problems continued.
Julie says when she bought the house, the realtor told her there was a “chance” that the home she bought may have had meth in it. They assured her that the house had been aired out for more than 5 days, which was the recommended practice. In 2006, the year Julie bought the house, realtors weren’t required to disclose even that much to a buyer. And airing out the house for 5 days, well that’s what you do when you burn toast to get the smell out of the house. It’s not what you do to get chemicals out of a home that’s been used to make meth, but Julie didn’t know that.
Chemicals used to make meth permeate every surface inside of the homes where meth is cooked. As the meth cooks, fumes travel throughout the house through the air and vent systems, finding it’s way on to every surface in the home and entering into any space where air can travel. And those chemicals, experts say, remain there for many years. Some experts say, they never go away, not on their own, anyway. The only sure way to remove the chemicals from a meth lab home, is to have the home decontaminated.
So, Julie moved in to her new home, excited about having a place of her own, until she began to give it, a closer look. She began finding things in odd places, like a hypodermic needle syringe inside of a heating vent and packages of pseudoephedrine packages in the garage. And then there were the burn marks on carpeting in the house in strange places and stains on the ceiling of the bedroom that she slept in, upstairs. The words of the real estate agent kept running through her mind – “there’s a chance that the house had meth in it”.
She decided it was time to find out more about the home’s history. She asked a local law enforcement officer about the history of the house, but she says their response was “there’s no evidence of that”. In 2009, she learned the truth about the house though from the Indiana State Police – the couple who had lived in the home previously had been arrested on meth charges in 2005, the year before Julie bought the house.
With no job, health problems, and a young son to take care of, Julie was left with no other choice but to stop making payments on the house to Wells Fargo. She expected that foreclosure proceedings would begin shortly after she stopped making payments, but they didn’t. The lender kept extending the foreclosure date, a fact that Julie attributes to her suspicion that Wells Fargo doesn’t want the house, either. Julie guesses that at this point, only the HUD program might be able to do something with it.
With no where else to turn, Julie contacted Indiana state representative Matt Bell and U.S. Congressman Mark Souder, for help. Although, Bell has been attentive to her desperate situation, she says all he could tell her is that Indiana is just now considering a bill that would require that sellers to disclose if a home has ever been used to make methamphetamine or used to store meth chemicals. In the meantime, Julie and her son are left with no place to live and no money to pay for the decontamination of their home , nor do they have any money to pay for their prescriptions, doctor visits, or medical testing.
Today, Julie and her son continue to suffer from health and financial problems, because of their contaminated meth lab home.