Boulder County Public Health is working on an update to the state’s regulations for cleaning up methamphetamine contamination, particularly in public spaces such as the Boulder Public Library.

“Everything we see points to meth exposure in public spaces not being a significant health risk,” Bill Hayes, an air quality coordinator for the Boulder County Public Health Department, told city councilmembers on Thursday, April 27.

County health officials said the state’s regulations for remediation of meth contamination were set in 2004. The relatively stringent standards have resulted in a “dramatic over-protection” at the expense of other community needs, they said, citing the example of the Boulder Public Library, which was closed last December due to contamination.

“We ended up having to close the library on the coldest day of the year,” Hayes said. “And a lot of our unhoused population use the libraries to stay warm on days like that. And so we really didn’t feel that, from a public health standpoint, closing the library was the best thing to do.”

Bathrooms, such as those at RTD bus station in downtown Boulder, are also often closed due to meth remediation, leaving unhoused people with even less access to public bathrooms. The contamination has also become a challenge for the region’s housing authorities, which provide affordable housing.

The remediation of the Boulder Public Library cost the city $153,000. The bathrooms have been reopened with restricted access.

Meth use can be ‘survival strategy’

The use of meth, a powerful stimulant, appears to be on the rise. It’s particularly prevalent among homeless people, reducing their odds of getting housing because its use can lead to unpredictable behavior and disqualify applicants for housing. Boulder has no inpatient addiction treatment providers. And for people living outside, breaking the addiction is nearly impossible, officials said.

“For many folks, it’s a survival strategy,” Lucy Larbalestier, a supervisor with the city’s Boulder Crisis intervention team, told councilmembers. “They can stay warm when it’s cold outside, they can stay alert at night so their things don’t get stolen or they don’t get assaulted.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can prompt an overdose in relatively small amounts, is also becoming more common in the City of Boulder, officials said.

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