When you hear the word forensic do you automatically think of CSI and other TV series that use science to solve crimes? Now we have forensic cleaners who are being used more and more in property and we tell you why.
Kevin: When we hear the word “forensic,” we quite often think of CSI and those crime shows on TV where they go into all of the forensic science. But forensic cleaning is something we don’t get to talk about very often. There is a company in Brisbane that we can touch base with now to learn a little bit more about what’s involved. That’s BVM Clean Scene. Pam Marsden is from that company.
Pam, thank you very much for your time.
Pam: My pleasure, Kevin.
Kevin: Tell me, firstly, what is a forensic cleaner, and what do you do?
Pam: Specifically, it’s cleaning up crime scenes, death scenes. It could also branch into squalids. Basically, mostly things that nobody else wants to do.
Kevin: You’ve been doing it for quite some time because I understand you were, in fact, Australia’s first established forensic cleaning company. Is that right?
Pam: That’s correct.
Kevin: How did the company come about?
Pam: It came about because there was a niche. I read about a lady in the States who was doing it, and I thought, “That sounds fascinating.” I did a bit of investigating and there was nothing. It used to be left to people who had been previous victims of crime themselves, and I thought, “This isn’t right.” I thought, “There’s a need here and I’ll fill it.” That’s how it came about. I started it on the 1st of November, 1996.
Kevin: Has your business changed in recent times? Here, I’m referring to the growth that we’re seeing in meth labs.
Pam: Yes, it certainly is a growth industry at the moment.
Kevin: Tell me how broad it is. We don’t get to hear a lot about it unless the police do a raid and then we hear about it. Are you being called in more and more?
Pam: I think it’s the tip of the iceberg, really. Yes, it is. It’s huge. Unfortunately, because there’s not really – probably – suitable regulation, a lot of it’s going under the radar.
Kevin: That’s a bit scary.
Pam: It’s very scary.
Kevin: I’ve heard of people doing this type of activity even in motels. Have you seen that?
Pam: Absolutely, and in car boots and caravans. They just go anywhere.
Kevin: I believe it would be very toxic so tell me about what precautions we need to take if we’re actually going to move into a house where this has been exposed.
Pam: You really need to make absolutely sure that the place has been decontaminated because they remain toxic for a very, very long time if they’re not cleaned. There are some ghastly chemicals involved in the making of this stuff. It just goes on.
Kevin: Is there a test kit that we can get before we move into a property just to make sure this hasn’t been going on?
Pam: That’s a very good question. I’m not sure. I’m sure there must be plenty of test kits you can get. I do test strips to send off to a laboratory. That’s probably a bit much for a resident to try and do each time they move into a place.
But really, there should be a history. In America, if a property has been a clandestine drug lab, they are obliged to tell the tenant or the buyer about it, whereas that doesn’t happen here.
Kevin: I was going to ask you that question, whether or not there is an obligation for disclosure.
Kevin: There’s not, at all.
Pam: No, there’s not. It’s the same with crime scenes. The only thing that they’re obliged to tell you about is a murder, but violent crime and all the rest of it, no.
Kevin: Good, because we have heard of instances around Australia where people have purchased a property and then found out a ghastly murder had taken place in there. They’ve even been able to overturn some of those transactions because they didn’t want to move in.
Pam: That happened here with the Gonzalez murders. A house that was in a suburb in Sydney, we cleaned it and then it was sold to a family from Burma. Of course, they’re very sensitive about spirits and all the rest of it. They actually got out of the sale, so now it’s called the Gonzalez Effect and they have to disclose the fact that there has been a murder on the premises.
Kevin: It must be terrible on a personal level for you to go to some of these awful murder scenes. How do you handle that?
Pam: I have a nursing background, so that probably helps. Also, we’re not actually emotionally involved. We get satisfaction from actually making the place look much better and acceptable to people who have to come in and get their relative’s possessions, etc.
Kevin: Getting back to meth labs for a moment, if I were to walk into a house where a meth lab had been set up, what could I expect? What would that smell be like?
Pam: Sometimes you can detect a chemical smell. Some people confuse it with if you go into a squalid premise, it smells like rotten food, the freezer has gone off or whatever. But a meth lab that’s been in clean premises, it’s really the chemical smell.
Kevin: That’s the smell. What about discoloration of the walls? Is that a factor?
Pam: Sometimes, especially because a lot of these things will catch light because they’re quite flammable, as well. If there’s been a fire, then obviously, yes. Sometimes there is a discoloration.
Kevin: Tell me about situations other than drug labs and murder scenes. I understand also you have been called in to clean up some pretty filthy houses, as well.
Pam: The hoarders and the squalids, that’s right. Once again, it was something that nobody else wanted to do, so it fell into our lap. Yes, we do that, too.
Kevin: We’ve seen on television those hoarder type shows, and I’m quite horrified to think that people would live in that kind of squalor. Do you see that very regularly?
Pam: Yes, there’s a lot of it out there. Once again, it’s the tip of an iceberg. What you hear about is just a small proportion of actually what goes on. Often, these people are only discovered when they have to go into hospital, and then, of course, the social work department goes out to see what the conditions that they live in are and are horrified.
Kevin: What’s the worst one you’ve had to clean up?
Pam: It was probably a premises in Bondi, and we couldn’t even open the front door more than about four inches. It was up at door level, the height. We just had to pick it away until we could open the door and keep going. It was unbelievable.
Kevin: Is it normally squalor, foodstuffs and things like that, or is it newspapers and cartons?
Pam: It’s everything, Kevin. They go around, the council clean-ups, and they bring all the stuff home regardless of whether it’s workable, or they want it, or whatever. They just bring it home. It’s a mental illness, though. Yes, it’s a problem.
Kevin: When you have to go in and clean these premises up with those bad smells and so on, do you use chemicals or natural-based products?
Pam: Usually it’s natural-based products. We have a machine for the unattended deaths that have been there for quite some time. I have a machine that runs for 24 hours to get rid of the odor.
Kevin: Pam, before I let you go, I wanted to cover off again on that disclosure element because that somewhat concerns me – that there is no obligation to disclose, particularly if there has been drug manufacturing happen in a rental unit or a house. That’s right across Australia, is it?
Pam: I don’t know about right across Australia, but certainly New South Wales. The police put a notice on the door of drug labs that they’ve busted, but it’s up to the council to see to it that these properties are decontaminated properly. But really, because there is a lack of regulation, I don’t think it happens as much as it should be.
Kevin: If I were a landlord and my rental property were used as a drug lab, am I responsible for having it cleaned up? In other words, do I have to pay for your services?
Pam: Unfortunately, yes you do, unless you have insurance. But a lot of insurance companies won’t touch this sort of thing because they’re extremely expensive procedures.
Kevin: Tell me how much it would cost if someone had been operating a meth lab.
Pam: It’s a bit like asking me how long a piece of string is because everything is different. In a car boot, it’s a bit different to a four-bedroom, two-story house or something.
Kevin: I suppose in a large house, it would permeate all of the rooms, not just the one where it was done.
Pam: It does. We’ve had to take the whole Gyprock wall system down in some houses. It’s just unbelievable. It depends on the severity of the drug lab, too, how long it’s been operating, and the lab test results when they come back.
Kevin: The company is called BVM Clean Scene. My guest has been Pam Marsden.
Pam, thank you so much for your time.
Pam: My pleasure, Kevin. Thank you for your call.