Big things were happening for Tyler and Elisha Hessel. They had finally found their dream home and were working on starting a family.
The four-bedroom home in Jefferson County, Mo., they fell in love with had been completely renovated with brand new carpet, numerous repairs completed and sparkling white trim throughout.
But their excitement was dashed just a bit when their new neighbors commented that they were thrilled to finally have “normal” people living next door. But they shrugged off the odd comments, focusing on the fact that after three years of trying to have a baby, Elisha finally was pregnant!
Their new home was perfect for the soon-to-be family of three. They began working on the nursery, thinking of baby names and preparing themselves for sleepless nights.
But their happy bubble quickly burst with just one prenatal test.
At six weeks, one of Elisha’s tests revealed that the mom-to-be had tested positive for amphetamines. Nurses demanded to know how exactly Elisha came to test positive for meth.
But neither Elisha nor Tyler had ever been around meth.
“When they called me, I didn’t know what that meant. So, I asked the nurse if that meant like, drugs in general. She basically just said ‘yes’ and asked me if I could explain that.”
The couple has no criminal history of drug use. They had no idea why Elisha would test positive.
That’s when they began to realize their dream home actually was a nightmare.
“Through speaking with neighbors and kind of getting hints here and there. I went ahead and bought a test over the internet and tested it myself and it did come back with unsafe levels in the home.”
It turns out that in Missouri, a home’s seller must disclose to potential buyers if it once had a drug lab in it. No one told the Hessels that there was a meth lab in their revamped house. It was busted in 2013.
Elisha and Tyler quickly vacated the home, which stands empty still today. They conducted testing that revealed the home’s entire ventilation system had been contaminated with methamphetamine and meth-making residue. The safari-themed nursery sits void of a baby because it’s too dangerous to be in the home.
During the 2013 drug bust, police found a burn barrel in the backyard while chasing an occupant of the home. The barrel was full of empty allergy pillboxes, empty drain opener, camp fuel bottles and other meth-making supplies.
Despite the evidence in the backyard, no one admitted to the police that meth had been made there. When police suspect an active meth lab, they are supposed to test for contamination and if levels are too dangerous, code officials are supposed to condemn the home until it’s cleaned up.
That never happened with their home.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has no record of testing the home for contamination. The suspicions were never reported to Code Enforcement. In 2016, the house became the property of a bank, then another buyer and then the Hessels.
Environmental scientist Tom Alford is surprised that a home could contain such high levels of contamination even after six years.
“As these materials off-gas and they’re coming through paint, they’re coming through, they’re coming out of cabinetry, they’re coming out of flooring. It’s spread through your HVAC system. It takes air from everywhere, turns it around, you inhale that, it gets into your lungs, it spreads out. And then all of a sudden, one day, you take your test and there you are. You have it.”
The Hessels wanted to salvage their home, but an estimate revealed that it would take upwards of $100,000 to clean it. The HVAC system and ductwork would have to be replaced and drywall would need to be torn out.
They can’t even move their precious photos, furniture and other items to Elisha’s mom’s home where they’re living in the meantime. That’s also where the baby’s nursery has been set up.
Sadly, the Hessels are stuck, because they can’t afford an attorney to fight the insurance company. There are no penalties at the state and county levels to impose upon those who never disclosed of the meth contamination or cleaned it up.
“Everybody wants to have their own home when they bring their baby home. A lot of it’s the disappointment and being upset over it, but I have definitely been angry over it as well.”
Even more devastating is that Elisha’s every move is being scrutinized while pregnant and that likely will continue after the baby is born even though she no longer tests positive for drugs. The day her baby girl is born, she will be tested for drugs and if there are amphetamine levels detected, she could be removed from the care of her parents by the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services.
How shocking that a home can test positive for meth long after the drug had been used in the home and that an innocent mom is under the gun for testing positive, too!
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