A total of 17 rooms at two North Samish Way motels have tested positive for methamphetamine contamination in recent months, with one space hundreds of times above acceptable standards for public health.
Every room tested came back “hot” for residue from meth being smoked inside — for a total of 10 contaminated rooms at the Aloha Motel and seven at the Villa Inn.
Whatcom County requires cleanup if tests show contamination levels at 0.1 microgram per 100 square centimeters and higher.
“It ranges from nine times that cleanup standard to 640 times the cleanup standard,” said Jeff Hegedus, environmental health supervisor with the Whatcom County Health Department, of the contamination levels.
The contaminated rooms, marked on the outside with red stickers, can’t be used until they’ve been cleaned to acceptable levels.
Bellingham police are working to make sure the rooms aren’t being used.
“We are responding to investigate when we are made aware that any of the red-tagged rooms are occupied,” Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht said. “The officers that work that beat area also keep an eye out (for) any activity in any of the involved rooms.”
Bellingham police conducting investigations, and some room residents, asked the health department to test the rooms; the health department doesn’t have the legal authority to go in and test on its own.
“We have considered a broad spectrum of solutions to the issues related to the chronic drug issues associated with the North Samish Way corridor. Based on the high number of drug-related responses to the Aloha, the concern about the residual effects of certain narcotics was taken into consideration,” Vander Yacht said.
He said police were working with the health department to make sure the motels were “safe enough for anybody that rents a room.”
Meth is a highly toxic and addictive drug that can be injected, snorted, smoked or ingested.
Residue left behind — on surfaces like walls, carpets, curtains and countertops — when someone smokes meth contaminates a property and poses a health risk to occupants.
Dizziness, nausea, headaches, throat irritation and weight loss are among the symptoms people might experience if they’re in a contaminated space.
The health department hasn’t been asked to test other lodging establishments along Samish Way.
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville announced Sept. 22 the city’s intent to condemn the Aloha Motel, because it has long been a hub of crime and drug activity.
Linville has said the effort was part of a broader plan to clean up the overall Samish Way corridor. Bellingham Police Chief Cliff Cook said several other motels in the area also have crime and drug issues.
“The reason we have focused on the Aloha and Villa is, in comparison to other Samish Way hotels, they have the highest number of police calls,” Linville said of testing for meth there.
A man who answered the phone at the Villa Inn on Thursday, Oct. 9, declined to comment. The owners are Jodh, Surrinder, Balwant and Sarbjit — all with the last name of Ghag, according to the Whatcom County Assessor.
The owners of the Aloha are listed as Sang and Mi Yi.
“We’re considering all our options at this point,” Greg Greenan, an attorney for the Yis, said Friday, Oct. 10.
He declined to comment further until the city starts the formal process to condemn the property as a blight.
The city is expected to bring an ordinance for condemnation to the City Council in late October.
Meanwhile, Linville promised that the city will keep police presence on the Samish Way corridor to monitor drug and criminal activity. Testing for meth contamination has been part of the process.
“We will use every legal option available to us when it comes to investigating and reducing drug and criminal activity. Dangerous public health risks such as meth contamination are unacceptable, no matter where they are in Bellingham,” the mayor said. “We are continuing to partner with the county health department to test rooms when given the opportunity, with a focus on Samish Way. We are also training our police officers to do meth testing themselves in the future.”