In many instances, a question may exist as to whether or not a particular site is contaminated with meth or fentanyl. In some cases, the fact that a meth lab or a fentanyl pill “factory” was operated at a property is obvious. However, in many other situations, determining whether or not a site is contaminated with one or another of these dangerous drugs is not apparent. An initial step in the process of determining whether a location is contaminated by meth or fentanyl is a visual inspection. In addition, a visual inspection aids in documenting the state of a site before meth or fentanyl decontamination commences.
Common Evidence of an Illicit Drug Lab
There are some more common signs that an illicit drug lab was operated at a particular location. These include:
- Glass cookware containing residue, specifically chemical residue
- Bottles or containers connected with rubber tubing
- Coffee or other filters, pillowcases, or bed sheets stained red or that contain a white powdery residue
- Stained carpet
- Glass pipes and syringes
- Burn marks on walls or ceilings
- Missing or tampered with smoke detectors
- Burn piles in yard
- Stained walls and floors
- Closed-circuit televisions or security systems
- Extreme amounts of debris
- Writing on walls
- Missing light bulbs
Objectives of Visual Documentation of Meth or Fentanyl Contamination Site
There is a specific set of objectives associated with the visual documentation of a meth or fentanyl contamination site. These objectives are associated with the following elements:
- Secure site
- Comprehensive inspection
- Septic system
- Burn piles
- HVAC system
- Decontamination versus removal
- Photo or video documentation
- Floor plan
An initial and vital aspect of meth or fentanyl site visual documentation is to ensure that the premises appropriately are secured. Because of the inherent danger of a meth or fentanyl contaminated site, a visual inspection of the property must include a focus on any and all ways in which a person could gain entry to the premises. No one can be permitted into the premises except for law enforcement officers, public health officials, HAZMAT team members, and meth or fentanyl decontamination specialists.
The visual documentation process must also account for safety issues at the premises itself. These are safety issues above and beyond those directly associated with the operation of meth or fentanyl production or use site. The visual documentation of safety issues include such things as:
- Unsafe floors
- Unsafe ceilings
- Unsafe walls
- Unsafe roofs
- Dangerous ventilation issues
A visual documentation of the premises needs to be comprehensive. Absolutely all areas of the premises must be visually documented and noted as possible locations of drug production, drug use, or contamination. These include:
- All rooms in the premises
- Crawl space
- Storage areas
- Other outbuildings
The visual documentation process must include a determination of whether or not the premises are serviced by a septic system. There are situations in which a septic system can become contaminated with chemicals associated with the production of drugs like meth. These chemicals in and of themselves can be highly hazardous.
During the visual documentation of the suspect property, attention must be paid to identifying burn piles. Burn piles can also contain hazardous substances associated with the production of drugs, specifically meth.
The HVAC system needs to be included in the overall, comprehensive visual documentation of the premises. A consideration must be made as to the ductwork associated with an HVAC system. There are instances in which a drug like meth is manufactured or smoked in a location in which an HVAC system is shared with other premises. A motel is a prime example of when this can be the case.
Decontamination Versus Removal
During the visual documentation process, a determination should be made as to what elements of the premises can be decontaminated and what elements need to be removed. Images should be made of these identified items to assist decontamination specialists in their efforts.
Photo or Video Documentation
Reference was just made to making an image of certain aspects of a potentially contaminated property. In fact, photos or videos should be made during the visual documentation process to make a thorough record of the premises. This can be useful in the decontamination process itself. It can be helpful if an insurance claim can be made.
Finally, the visual documentation process should include the creation of a master floor plan of the premises to be decontaminated. In addition, a floor plan is needed as part of the initial swabbing and testing process. Through the development of a floor plan, the specific locations in a property where swabbing and testing is to be undertaken can be readily identified. The creation of a master floor plan ensures that nothing is overlooked when it comes to testing or decontamination.