Identifying a meth contaminated area in a building or elsewhere is not always an easy task. The process of identifying whether a particular location was used as a meth lab necessitates a comprehensive site assessment. There are some specific elements associated with a site assessment that needs to occur as a prelude to determining whether meth decontamination is necessary and what for that remediation will take.
Three General Elements of a Comprehensive Meth Site Assessment
A professional meth inspector will undertake a site assessment that is divided into three phases:
- Information gathering
- Sampling and testing
- Site visit
When meth contamination has been identified at a building of some sort the first step in the overall site assessment process is preliminary information gathering. This includes making contact with appropriate law enforcement officials. These can include local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel. The local health department should also be contacted.
The purpose of these initial contacts is twofold. First, these initial contacts need to be made to ensure that any criminal investigation that might have been undertaken has been completed. If the meth contamination was the result of a meth lab or even a meth distributor, odds are that some sort of criminal investigation either is or was underway.
Second, these initial contacts need to be made to ensure that the site is at least restored to a status that it is not unduly hazardous. By that it is meant that the sites that had been locations of meth labs very well may have needed HAZMAT intervention. For example, if dangerous equipment, chemicals, and pervasive meth residue is at a site, a HAZMAT team may be needed to deal with these exceedingly hazardous materials. This does not obviate the need for more detailed or deep professional meth decontamination.
There may have been written reports prepared by a law enforcement agency, a HAZMAT team, or the health department regarding the decontamination of a scene where a meth lab was operated. The owner of the property or even a professional meth decontamination company might be able to access these materials. These types of reports can provide useful information about a site that was used as a meth lab that includes:
- Types of dangerous solvents found at the premises
- Types of corrosive agents found at the premises
- Methods used to make or cook meth
- Processing or cooking areas in the premises
- Disposal areas in, at, or around the premises
- Hazardous material storage areas in, at, or around the property
The second step of the overall site assessment before remediation is a site visit. The site visit particularly is important if there wasn’t some sort of prior investigation of the space by law enforcement or the health department. A prime element of the site visit is to consider whether any of the proverbial telltale signs of the prior existence of a meth lab can be found at the scene. These signs include:
- Glass cookware with chemical residue
- Bottles or containers outfitted with rubber tubing
- Filters, pillowcases, or bed sheets stained red or containing 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
- Multicolored staining on walls and floors
- Closed-circuit televisions or security systems
- Extreme amounts of debris around the premises, akin to hoarding appearance
- Writing on walls
- Missing light bulbs
The physical condition of the premises also needs to be evaluated during the site visit. Meth is manufactured in a range of different types of settings in this day and age. With that said, meth cooks do take advantage of vacant properties that might not be in good or safe condition. In addition, meth cooks have no regard to what they do to a property or what condition they leave it in. Thus, not only may a property be contaminated with meth and other harmful substances after use by a meth maker but it may have also sustained extensive physical damage that renders the premises hazardous. The inspection needs to include an examination to ascertain whether there are any unsafe roofs, ceilings, walls, or floors in the property.
As part of the site visit, a video should be made or photos taken to document the condition of the premises. Photos or a video should also focus on areas within the premises that are thought to be focal points for contamination.
Finally, whenever the premises will be entered, whether for a site visit or for sampling and testing, appropriate personal protective equipment must be worn. The PPE is specifically designed for being in an area believed to be contaminated by meth.
Sampling and Testing
In some cases there will not be an advance examination of a property by law enforcement or a health department, let alone work undertaken by a HAZMAT team, when there may be meth issue at a property. This can be situation when a meth lab was suspected at a particular property, but the equipment and other materials were fairly efficiently removed from the property by a meth cook.
With that said, if meth had been smoked in a property for a period of time, or if a dealer stored meth at a property, there is not likely to be any immediately evident physical evidence that this occurred. For this reason, sampling and testing needs to be undertaken at the location where meth contamination is suspected.
The most commonplace testing practice to ascertain whether a residence, business, or other location might be encumbered by meth contamination is to take swab samples at different locations in the interior of the property. These samples are then provided to a lab that is duly certified to process samples to ascertain whether meth contamination is present.
The HVAC system needs to be part of the sampling and testing process. The bottom line is that if a person or persons who previously occupied or otherwise had access to a building smoked meth heavily, for an extended period of time, or both, meth smoke (actually vapor containing particulates) will get into the HVAC system and get spread throughout the premises.
Provided these steps are undertaken in a thorough manner, a professional can develop an effective action plan for meth decontamination. In addition, a meth decontamination specialists understands how to undertake these site assessment steps and the actual remediation in a safe, comprehensive manner.