Cleanup and Inspection of Illegal Drug Labs

Since 2007, the number of clandestine methamphetamine labs found in Indiana have posed a serious danger to Hoosiers. 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 of meth. Meth labs have been discovered in homes, apartments, hotel and motel rooms, mobile homes, restaurants, sheds, and motor vehicles. Signs of a methamphetamine lab include an abnormal amount of chemical products, strong or irritating pungent odors, or distinctive trash such as stripped batteries.

The largest contaminant left behind from a meth lab is the drug itself, methamphetamine. Like smoke damage, tiny droplets containing the drug are deposited inside the home and on household goods. This leaves a meth residue coating surfaces, absorbing into porous materials, and contaminating the forced-air heating/cooling (HVAC) system. The drug is potent, and so exposure to a small amount could cause adverse health effects. If not decontaminated, the drug lab can leave toxic meth residue behind indefinitely. The smoking of meth will also create residue in a home that is above the levels considered safe by most states. Clean up is required in Indiana if the methamphetamine contamination is above the action level of  0.5 µg per 100cm2.

In addition to the meth residue, labs are a public health concern because of the hazardous chemicals and waste byproducts that can be spilled or deposited on floors, walls, furniture, and left in household plumbing.

There are three key exposure pathways to the meth residue including inhalation, absorption through the skin, and ingestion through hand to mouth contamination. This can cause a variety of health problems, especially for children. Young children are a high risk population because they spend approximately 80%-90% of their time indoors and are rapidly growing. They are also most likely to be exposed to meth through the hand-to-mouth pathway (especially in children who are teething). Possible chronic health effects from exposure to methamphetamine lab residue can include disorientation, respiratory irritability, behavioral changes, neurological damage, liver damage, or kidney damage.

Adverse health effects have been reported by law enforcement personnel and other first responders who have been at the scene before the property was ventilated. 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 Indiana State Police is mainly responsible for seizing a methamphetamine lab, and they remove the bulk chemicals, reactions, vessels and those items that pose an immediate threat to public safety and the environment. Local Health Departments protect public health by ensuring that the contaminated properties remain vacant until they are cleaned up under Ind.Code 16-41-20 . The Indiana State Department of Health has standardized the drug lab cleanup process via 410 IAC 38 et seq, provides technical assistance for Local Health Departments, provides property owners with a list of Qualified Inspectors, reviews the qualified inspectors work, accepts/rejects Certificates of Decontamination and requires further testing/decontamination as needed. The property owners are responsible for the testing and decontamination of their properties and hire Qualified Inspectors who test, decontaminate and ultimately certify the properties as ready for occupation.