Meth remains a widely used drug in Southern California and across the United States. Understanding the essential mechanics and workings of a meth lab can be illuminating when it comes to meth abuse and addiction.

During the 1990s, meth labs came to the attention of the public at large. During much of the 1990s, people caught sight of headlines that spoke of so-called meth cooks working in makeshift labs in trailers situated in some isolated rural location. These would-be chemists were dealing with dangerous chemicals and hazardous processes. Time and again, these ramshackle meth labs exploded and went up into dramatic, spectacular flames – oftentimes seriously and even fatally injuring meth cooks. In more recent years, exploding meth labs are becoming far less common due to changes in meth production. 

Locating a Site for a Meth Lab

When it comes to the mechanics of a meth lab, a key element is finding a suitable location where the drug can be made. The cliché of a trailer in the woods serving as a meth lab is not as commonplace today as it was in the past, but that type of location has not been completely abandoned either. The most frequently used types of locations which are used for meth labs at this juncture in the 21st century include:

  • Motel rooms
  • Vacant rental properties (commercial and residential)
  • Abandoned buildings
  • Rented private residences (single-family, apartments, condos, townhomes)

At the heart of selecting a site for a meth lab are two main considerations:

First, the site must be a place where a meth cook will not be disturbed. Meth manufacturers have learned that this requirement doesn’t necessarily mean that a meth lab needs to be in some isolated location in the middle of nowhere. Rather, there can be locations in the heart of a major metropolitan area where a meth cook can rev up and run a lab and not face any interference even from people in the immediate vicinity.

Second, the site must be one that can be abandoned in a beat. A meth lab needs to be in a location at which a meth maker or cook can simply walk away when his or her “work” is done. In addition, it must be a site that can be abandoned immediately if evidence exists that law enforcement may have become aware of the possibility that meth is being made at a particular location.

When a meth lab has been operated at a particular location, dangerous and even potentially fatal contamination is a very real concern. Depending on the state of the site where a meth lab was operated, a HAZMAT team might be called in to eliminate hazardous items at the location. For example, a HAZMAT team can be tasked with eliminating equipment left behind after a meth cook. A HAZMAT team might also remove hazardous chemicals that were part of the meth-making process and left behind as well. 

Beyond a HAZMAT team’s work, the professional assistance of a meth decontamination company is likely needed. Indeed, a meth decontamination company may be the first line of defense upon the discovery of a possible meth lab operation.

Meth Lab Equipment

There are different ways in which meth is manufactured, each requiring its own assortment of equipment to make the illicit drug. The three most commonly utilized ways of making meth are:

  • Red phosphorus method
  • Birch method
  • Amalgam method

There are also hybrids and customized approaches that are based on these different approaches to making meth.

The equipment used in a meth lab can include everything from propane gas tanks to gas heating units to the types of apparatus found in legitimate research laboratories, including beakers.

Chemicals Used in a Meth Lab

A wide range of different types of chemicals are necessary to operate a “successful” meth lab. The chemicals that are required in a particular lab depends on what method of production is going to be used. 

Some of the chemicals that are used in a meth lab are found in a typical household. Other chemicals are of a more dangerous nature. Moreover, in the operation of a meth lab, some of these chemicals combine to form highly hazardous compounds. 

Examples of chemicals apt to be found in a meth lab include:

  • Anhydrous ammonia
  • Lithium metal
  • Sodium metal
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Ethyl alcohol (ethanol)
  • Methyl alcohol (methanol)
  • Mercuric chloride
  • Aluminum, hydrochloric acid
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Methanol, ethanol
  • Acetone
  • Benzene
  • Chloroform
  • Hydriodic acid
  • Hydrochloric (muriatic) acid
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • Sodium chloride (salt)
  • Red phosphorous

A person who suspects evidence of the operation of a meth lab exists needs to exit such as space immediately. The space needs to be cordoned off so that no one else enters. The police need to be called as well. Once the scene has been released by the police and a HAZMAT team (if one was called), the owner of the premises becomes responsible for ensuring that complete meth decontamination occurs. As mentioned previously, this is an undertaking best addressed by professionals due to the hazardous nature of such a site.