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Illegal Drug Lab Health Concerns Hazards and Safety

What health effects result from the use and/or manufacture of methamphetamine?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classify methamphetamine as a Schedule II drug.  It is highly accessible and relatively inexpensive to manufacture.

Methamphetamine is an addictive central nervous system stimulant, which dangerously speeds up the heart and blood pressure to uncontrollable levels. Possible chronic health effects from exposure to methamphetamine lab residue can include disorientation, respiratory irritability, behavioral changes, neurological damage, liver damage, or kidney damage.  Acute health effects from exposure to meth lab contaminants can include dizziness, lack of coordination, shortness of breath, chest pain, and chemical irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, or mouth.  The drug is potent, and so exposure to a small amount could cause adverse health effects.

There are three key exposure pathways to meth residue including inhalation, absorption through the skin, and ingestion through hand to mouth contamination. Residue can cause a variety of health problems, especially for those at risk, the elderly, the infirm and children. Young children are a particularly high risk population because they spend approximately 80%-90% of their time indoors and are more likely to be playing on surfaces that would retain residue, i.e., furniture, carpets. Toddlers are especially susceptible to exposure through the hand-to-mouth pathway (particularly in children who are teething).

For more information, see National Institutes on Health: National Institute on Drug Abuse: DrugFacts-Methamphetamine Abuse

How does the use and/or manufacture of meth effect property?

Methamphetamine production consists of the mixing of volatile solvents, corrosives, reactive metals and ephedrine/pseudo-ephedrine. Such reactions off-gas various residues and produce approximately six pounds of waste for every pound manufactured. In Indiana meth labs have been found in homes, apartments, hotel and motel rooms, mobile homes, restaurants, sheds, stores, and motor vehicles. Clean up is required in Indiana if the methamphetamine contamination is above 0.5 µg/100 cm2.  Meth residue-contaminated properties need to be properly evaluated and decontaminated before being categorized as habitable by a public health official.

The largest contaminant left behind from a meth lab is the drug itself, methamphetamine. Like smoke damage, toxic droplets and particulates from the methamphetamine production process deposits chemicals and methamphetamine residues on interior surfaces including: walls, ceilings, floors, doors, cabinets, and furniture. Porous items such as carpet and upholstery readily absorb the meth residue and remain in the fabric unless removed by decontamination. Residues also remain on non-porous materials, contaminating forced-air heating/cooling (HVAC)  and plumbing systems.  Where each meth lab is located, a potential hazardous waste site exists.  Each site requires evaluation and if contamination is found, remediation by a Qualified Inspector.

Safety Tips

Products used in the manufacture of methamphetamine can be toxic, flammable, explosive or ignitable.  Further, there is a potential risk of exposure to infectious wastes.  Risk of injury or toxicity from chemical exposure is possible depending upon the toxic properties of the chemicals used, their quantity and form, concentration, and the duration and route of exposure.  

If you are aware that meth has been manufactured at a property, do not enter the property if at all possible. If a drug lab is suspected, the Indiana State Police should be alerted so that the property may be secured.  Signs that illegal drug manufacturing has occurred include a large quantity of cold tablet blister packs, bottles, lithium batteries, camp fuel, paint thinner, Acetone, starting fluid, and propane tanks with blue fittings, a strong chemical smell, cookware with powdery residue, and bottles or jars with rubber tubing attached.

For anyone who finds his or herself in a potential illegal drug lab related property:

  • Do not touch anything.
  • Do not turn on or off any electrical power or light switches.
  • Do not eat or drink in or around the property.
  • Do not open or move containers with chemicals or suspected chemicals.
  • Do not smoke anywhere near the property.

For First Responders, local health department or children services works, please note that many drug lab incidents are reported as other emergencies, i.e., medical for a burn or smoke inhalation victim, structure for a fire or explosion, and/or investigation of odor complaint or illegal dumping; odor complaints, squatters, or habitability; child neglect or abuse.

See http://www.in.gov/meth/files/First_Responder_Safety_Tips.pdf

Property Owners are required to hire a Qualified Inspector to clear a property before continuing to occupy or use the property.  See 410 IAC 38-3-2.  The Local Health Department's Order will prohibit entry into a drug-related property as the property will have been deemed unfit for human habitation.  For a list of current properties that have not been tested or decontaminated, see the Indiana State Police's Clan Lab Address List.