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You get a phone call from a young father who says that he, his wife and their three children lived unwittingly in a former methamphetamine laboratory for about six months. As a reporter, you instantly think that the journalism gods have just handed you an easy cover story.

Prove that it was a former meth lab. Prove that they lived there. Find the law that says that it's illegal, and call the cops. Call the doctor who says that their lives were at risk. Add a few more interesting details, and voila. You have a compelling tale to tell.

Except you find out that, yes, there is a law, but it doesn't really do much on its own. And the local agency that's supposed to enforce it is woefully overmatched, while the state essentially plays no regulatory role.

Also, you learn that perhaps because of the hype and panic that accompanied meth in the early 2000s, no one seems particularly interested in discussing the issue.

And, yes, while the contamination left behind from a lab can be remarkably dangerous, full of mercury, lead and other toxins, there is no recorded case in a medical or scientific journal of someone being harmed by inhabiting a former lab site.

So what you wind up with is a different story (starting here) — a look at why hundreds of locals may be living in places that, by law, ought to be condemned, with very few people willing or able to do much about it.

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