Frequently Asked Questions
What is methamphetamine?
Many chemicals may contaminate a property after cooking meth. Carpeting, wallboard, ceiling tile, or fabric may absorb spilled or vaporized chemicals. Furniture or draperies may become contaminated. Outdoor disposal sites may also require evaluation and cleanup.
When a meth lab is discovered, the local law enforcement agency and/or the Division of Criminal Investigations, is responsible for making arrests and seizing the lab. Evidence is removed from the site, and chemical hazard consultants are brought in by law enforcement to remove containers of hazardous chemicals related to the operation of the meth lab. Officials may also screen indoor air. Law enforcement may call child protective services if children are involved.
Once containers of chemicals and equipment related to the meth lab have been removed, the health department evaluates the property for long-term exposure risks from residual chemicals. Additionally, the Department of Natural Resources may assess environmental impacts from outdoor chemical spills or improper waste disposal.
Before entering a former meth lab, call the local law enforcement agency and/or the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigations to get information on the seizure. Ask about: the amounts and types of chemicals used in the meth production; whether there was evidence of solvent use, chemical spills, or unusual odors; where the production was occurring; whether it was a low or high production lab*; and the general level of sanitation existing on the property.
When visiting a site, especially the first time, have a member of local law enforcement or the Division of Criminal Investigations familiar with the case accompany you. The officer should be able to describe the situation, and can help in the event of unexpected encounters with occupants or visitors.
* Contact DHS for more assistance before proceeding in cases of high production labs.
While still in operation, or prior to a seizure, there is a high risk for acute exposure to harmful chemicals in meth labs. If you discover an active meth lab, do not attempt to enter. Contact your local law enforcement agency immediately.
Many of the chemicals used in the “cooking” process can be harmful. Short-term exposures to high concentrations of chemical vapors that may exist in a functioning meth lab can cause severe health problems or even death. For this reason, meth “cookers”, their families, and first responders are at highest risk of acute health effects from chemical exposure, including lung damage and chemical burns to different parts of the body. Heating solvents inside a building can create a highly flammable situation; meth labs are often discovered when fire fighters respond to a blaze.
After the police seize a meth lab, there is usually only a low exposure risk to chemical residues, but this contamination needs to be cleaned up. Also, properties often have serious sanitation and safety issues, such as physical and electrical hazards. Sanitation issues can complicate the assessment of chemical hazard risk. Any evaluation needs to consider the overall condition of the property.
Residues of methamphetamine and other chemicals remaining at a former meth lab are a concern for people who later use the property. For this reason, local health departments should thoroughly assess the property for hazards prior to allowing it to be re-inhabited, especially if by children.
When a meth lab is discovered in a multiple-unit dwelling, neighbors may be concerned about their exposure to hazardous chemicals while the lab was still active. Neighbors’ risk for exposure is usually very low, but it is important to address any nearby residents’ concerns.Scientific and Medical Research Working Group of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children. (exit DHS)
After the meth lab has been declared safe by law enforcement for entry, but before lab chemicals and equipment are removed, only authorized people should enter the property. These people should wear, at a minimum, protective eye, hand and foot covering. Disposable gloves (e.g. latex or nitrile) and a disposable protective jumpsuit (e.g. Tyvek) are recommended. If toxic fumes or vapors are suspected, only trained professionals should enter and clean the building with appropriate safety equipment.
There are currently no national regulations on exactly how to cleanup former meth labs and situations are different in each meth lab. The Department has worked with other national and state agencies to provide the following meth lab cleanup procedures that will protect the public and be practical for property owners.
Sometimes scrubbing and painting is all that is necessary to restore a former meth lab to a safe living environment. Sometimes, contamination is so broad and extensive that the inside of the building needs complete renovation. Across the U.S., the response to cleaning up former meth lab properties ranges from minor cleaning to complete demolition of buildings. Some meth labs require soil and/or groundwater cleanup as well, depending on the extent of how and where chemical wastes were managed.Property owners are responsible for proper cleanup and costs.
Owners who decide to clean buildings on their own should be aware that household building materials and furniture may absorb contaminants and, in some cases, give off fumes. Private cleanup contractors can be hired to conduct building cleanup as well.
There is currently no national or state consensus on sampling at former meth lab buildings. Although many states have adopted cleanup standards that are based on the lowest detection of meth, DHS currently recommends that sampling is usually not needed. A thorough common-sense cleanup (which might include repair or disposal of some surfaces or appliances), followed by a visual assessment and walk-through, is just as effective at providing an acceptable cleanup for residential buildings.
If chemicals have been dumped or spilled on the ground, in a septic system, or in surface water, the Department of Natural Resources will assess the need for environmental sampling. The DNR has specific guidelines to address environmental contamination.
General sanitation issues such as filth, squalor, and pests often complicate the assessment process at meth labs.
After cleaning and airing-out the building, it should be re-checked for staining and odors, both indicators of residual contamination. If odors and stains remain, more extensive clean-up steps should be taken.
Absorbent materials, such as carpeting, drapes, clothing, furniture, etc., can accumulate dust or splattered chemicals during “cooking.” These materials should be considered for disposal, even if an odor or discoloration is not present.
Wear gloves, protective clothing with long sleeves, and eye protection while cleaning. Ventilation of the building should be continued throughout the cleaning process.
Waste products may have been dumped down sinks, drains, and toilets. These waste products can collect in drains, traps, and septic tanks and give off fumes.
If a strong chemical odor is coming from household plumbing, do not attempt to address the problem yourself. Contact a plumbing contractor for professional assistance. Let the contractor know that the property is a former meth lab and inform him/her of the types and quantities of chemicals that may have been flushed down the drains. The amounts of chemicals dumped in soil or septic systems are usually not enough to cause environmental damage. If you suspect the septic tank or yard may be contaminated, contact the local health department or DNR for advice.
After a surface has been cleaned, painting that surface should be considered, especially where contamination was found or suspected.
Painting makes a barrier between residual contamination not removed by cleaning and anyone who may come in contact with those surfaces. Painting will cover up and "lock" the contamination onto the surface, reducing the chance of it being released into the air.
Testing can be done after cleanup, but at this time the Department of Health Services does not consider it necessary. The cleaning procedures outlined in this document, when followed correctly, should be adequate for reducing any health hazard risk. If you are dealing with a high production meth lab, call the Department for more assistance. Division of Criminal Investigations will determine if the site was a high production lab.
PPH 7144 (Rev. 10/06)
Last Revised: August 07, 2012