Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug not only because of the rapid degradation of users’ bodies but even its creation. The chemicals used to create meth are volatile and while getting the mixture wrong can lead to problems, getting the mixture right still results in several problematic byproducts that need to be handled with extreme caution. Provided below is an in-depth look at everything that goes into dealing with a meth lab.
This is shorthand for any sort of clandestine drug lab. Clandestine means that something is being done in secret. This is a common term in law enforcement, though “meth lab” is also common. Clan labs even include places where people make moonshine.
What Is Meth?
Methamphetamine stimulates the central nervous system. In clinical circles, C10H15N is used for dealing with narcolepsy, hyperkinesis and keeping blood pressure stabilized in hypotensive individuals. It is also highly addictive and even though the majority of meth used in the United States comes from superlabs it can easily be made in clan labs with cheap ingredients bought over the counter. Considering how easy and inexpensive it is to produce, it makes sense why meth use can easily overtake entire communities in short order.
Synonyms for the drug include “speed” and “chalk.” It can also be smoked, where it is referred to by names like “ice” and “crank.” It is white, scentless, bitter and crystalline that easily breaks down in liquid. It is derived from amphetamine and was initially used to treat nasal and bronchial issues. Just like amphetamine, meth increases talkativeness, depletes appetite and boosts mood. Meth reaches the brain in a much more concentrated amount than with amphetamine, resulting in a longer duration and worse influences on the nervous system.
What Does a Meth Clan Lab Look Like?
Since most of the ingredients used in making meth are common items freely sold at stores, it is entirely possible that you may have passed by a meth lab without even realizing it. The only telltale signal of a meth lab would be discovering a two-liter bottle of soda containing a grainy white residue along its bottom or some plastic tubing coming out of the top.
Tiers of Meth Lab
- User lab with very small sales. These are small labs intended for personal use and while they may garner a sale here and there, chiefly serves as a way for an addict to become his own supplier.
- Medium lab. While some personal use may occur, this is when the venue transitions into a focus on money.
- Superlab. Traditionally found in Mexico, these focus exclusively on making money and are run by Mexican cartels. Superlabs are defined as any facility that produces a minimum of 10 pounds of meth per batch.
Most labs to be decontaminated within the United States tend to be small scale user labs though it is not unheard of to deal with the occasional medium lab.
On Cleanup Procedures
The very first step when it comes to dealing with decontaminating a meth lab is to verify that the facility’s gas generator has been removed by law enforcement or individuals contracted by law enforcement. Every lab uses these to generate hydrogen chloride and they are highly toxic, corrosive and often pressurized devices. After the worst health hazards have been dealt with by first-responders, we come in to deal with the rest.
Chemical Hazards of Meth
One “cooked batch” of methamphetamine produces 2 gallons of chemical waste for half a gram. These sorts of chemicals mean that fires and explosions are a constant threat.
Few meth lab operators bother with safety concerns and a fair number of meth lab cooks have no experience with chemistry. The three main categories of health hazards within a meth lab are:
- Metals and salts
- Corrosives (strong acids and bases). These can be gaseous or liquid, making their inhalation a serious problem.
These sites are also home to “death bags,” trash bags filled with kitty litter and deadly gasses used to produce the drug.
While highly concentrated hazards are an obvious problem, even long-term exposure to medium or low-level hazards can lead to them entering the body and playing havoc with a person’s health.
Specific Health Risks Exposure May Lead To
- Meth ingredients and byproducts
- Chronic levels of hazards
- Conditions suitable to fire, explosions and combustibles
- Corrosives can lead to chemical burns, being absorbed into the skin, blindness from reaching the eyes and lung damage from getting into the lungs
- Being near reactions like lithium exposed to water and hydrogen gas
- Airborne hydrochloric acid
- Dangerous levels of iodine
- Red phosphorus
- Sodium hydroxide
- Battery acid
- Toulene (used in paint products)
- Criminals returning to the site
- Hydroxide chemical compounds
- Bloodborne pathogens from knives, rusty tools and other equipment
- Loaded toilets
- Used needles
- Extreme temperature stresses
- Booby traps
- Encounters with venomous or diseased wildlife
- Questionable or decayed construction
- Asbestos, mercury and lead
- Electrical hazards
How a Professional Tackles Cleanup
Once law enforcement shows up to tackle the priority hazards, it is up to the professional cleaners to take over. This begins with a thorough assessment of everything on the property in question so that no potential hazards are overlooked. Here is a breakdown of many of the steps a professional cleaner handles when cleaning a meth lab.
- Get a proper description of all properties relevant to the lab, their addresses, legal designations and any other overall observations.
- Analyze police reports for intelligence about how the product was created, what chemicals are around, where the cooking and storage facilities are located, where contamination is evident and where waste products were disposed of.
- Identify structural clues to other rooms and viable storage areas.
- Identify how the drugs were manufactured based on the second and third points.
- Discern chemicals used in creating the meth based on the last three points.
- Identify and document contamination through multiple sources.
- Identify and document chemical storage facilities, waste disposal, cooking zones and signs of contamination like staining, etching, fire damage or even dead vegetation.
- Investigate plumbing system and viability of sewer as a lab waste disposal facility.
- Identify neighboring properties and zones where contamination is known or seems likely to be.
- Recognize and note ventilation systems and how they connect to other areas.
- Photograph conditions of every part of the lab’s facilities and surroundings, as well as all spots of contamination.
Primary and Secondary Contamination
A professional will use his intelligence to separate the site into areas of primary and secondary contamination.
- Primary zones include any area or surface connected to where the meth was cooked, disposed of or stored.
- Secondary zones include places where contamination may have migrated, such as hallways and high-traffic zones; the common areas of multi-dwelling areas and also the ventilation and plumbing systems of multi-dwelling areas.
The Actual Decontamination Process
Not all meth labs call for the same approach and there are three major ways of decontaminating them.
- Demolition. This method involves destroying the structure with either a bulldozer or fire. It also involves a lot of clearance for clean air concerns and requires coordination with a building department. Obviously, hazards like asbestos need to be dealt with before demolition can ensue. The fire department might also need to be called in to execute a burn exercise but this requires clearance with both the health and building departments.
- Detergent. This involves washing every surface, either three times by hand or once with a power washer. Ideally, the professional will use citrus-free cleaners and a heated power washer.
- Chemical Method. This approach involves mixing two different chemicals together to create a viable decontaminating solution.
Regardless of how the professional goes about it, the decontamination process involves dealing with every item, surface and room on the property. This also means that a lot of furniture, possessions and even vehicles stored on the property, such as in a garage, need to be handled with extreme care in their removal as these things could have any amount of nasty chemical waste clinging to them. When it comes to checking out the ventilation and plumbing systems of a lab, the professional will analyze how things flow throughout the house in order to minimize the risk of sending out even more contaminants into the area and its surroundings while clearing those systems.
While meth labs are a blight upon society that anyone can create, decontaminating one is something that can only be done safely by people with professional training.