When Clifton Moneymaker rented a mobile home to a couple with three children, he did not expect them to use it for cooking methamphetamine.
When the tenants were arrested last fall, the site had been contaminated with toxic waste from the production process. Agents marked Moneymaker's property with hazardous-substance posters, but he said no one would tell him how to clean it so he could rent the property again.
In November, he agreed to let a couple live in the trailer rent-free while cleaning it.
"We had never heard of meth labs," said Moneymaker, 76, a retiree who relies on the $500 a month in rent.
Many rural property owners such as Moneymaker are getting stuck with cleanups and liability after government-paid contractors remove the contaminated hardware and utensils used to cook the addictive stimulant.
Owners of the affected properties bear the costs of tearing out and cleaning carpets, floors, walls and ceilings saturated with chemical and acid vapors.
Even worse, federal environmental officials say they typically do not monitor meth-contaminated properties after the initial cleanup, and officials say there are no rules for follow-up inspections to ensure that properties are safe for the next tenant.
The recipe for meth can include ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from cold tablets, red phosphorous from matchbook strike plates, ether from engine starter, iodine and sulfuric acid from drain cleaner. Exposure to the vapors and residue can cause respiratory problems, headaches and nausea.
Ed Childress, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in Washington, said the Environmental Protection Agency has general standards for cleanups of meth-contaminated property, "but, underneath, it can become more complex."
After the lab is removed, "what is left over is a contaminated site," Childress said. "In every situation, we send letters to the local government and health department and EPA."
And an owner who does not decontaminate that property could be found liable for passing on a contaminated property, he said.
Don Rigger, chief of emergency response for EPA's Atlanta region, said the agency typically does not monitor cleanups of meth contamination beyond government-paid contractors removing the containers and chemicals.
EPA employees do very few lab cleanups, which he said can cost as much as $25,000 each. The rest is left to the property owners.
Tenants and home buyers, as a result, may not always know what they are getting into.
McMinn County sheriff's Lt. Billy Farmer said there is no federal or state law that says property owners have to notify anyone about a previous methamphetamine contamination.
State Rep. Charles Curtiss (D) said a young couple in Warren County bought a house without knowing there had been a meth lab inside, and "mold started growing out of the walls and light fixtures."
"Ultimately, they had to move. They didn't recover anything," he said.
McMinn County Sheriff Steve Frisbie said his officers send letters to property owners and health, environmental and property registry agencies every time they raid a meth lab.
In some communities, notices of the contamination are attached to deeds. But in McMinn County, Nadean Cunningham, the register of deeds, said she did not know about the notices.
Nationwide, government-paid contractors cleaned up meth-cooking rigs at more than 7,700 locations in 2003.
Federal Drug Enforcement Administration records show there were 1,253 meth labs cleaned up at a cost of $2.3 million in Tennessee in 2003, topping all states for the third straight year.
This year, Tennessee legislators approved tougher penalties for people convicted of making the drug, and they outlawed the possession of large amounts of the cold tablets and chemicals used to make it.
Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has appointed a task force to make other recommendations by Sept. 1. Curtiss, the lawmaker, is pushing to quarantine all meth labs until they are cleaned up by contractors approved by the state.
Dean Mayberry, a real estate broker in Putnam County, said he spent tens of thousands of dollars repairing and cleaning a rental house after agents arrested the tenant in a meth lab raid.
"We had to tear it plumb down to the two-by-fours, had to replace the insulation and the plumbing -- the faucets had been burned by the acid," Mayberry said. "I finally sold it for $70,000, and I didn't make any money."