Meth Lab Cleanups

Methamphetamine, also known as meth, speed, crank, crystal, and ice, is an illegal drug that stimulates the central nervous system. It is often manufactured as a white, bitter-tasting powder or pill, or fragments that look like glass or bluish-white rocks. It can be injected, smoked, snorted, or taken orally.

Meth may cause periods of high energy and rapid speech. Many users of methamphetamine also experience severe depression, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and violent behavior. Long-term use leads to physical dependence with withdrawal symptoms.

Learn more about Wisconsin's efforts to raise awareness of the health and safety dangers of meth production and use.

Local Health Response

After the police seize a meth lab and remove the obvious hazards, there may still be chemical residues. Such contamination needs to be evaluated and cleaned up by local health professionals.

Properties with meth labs often have other serious sanitation and safety issues, such as building-related structural problems and electrical hazards. The evaluation by law enforcement and local health departments needs to consider the overall condition of the property.

Assessing and Ordering Meth Lab Cleanup: A Guide for Local Health Departments can aid health professionals with determining human health hazards left from meth labs.

Many of the chemicals used in the meth “cooking” process can be harmful.

Health Concerns

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 “cooks,” their families, and first responders are at highest risk of 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 firefighters respond to a fire or explosion.

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 concerns of nearby residents.

One-Pot Method

Process

A meth recipe that is gaining popularity is the “one-pot” method, or “shake and bake.” Unlike earlier methods of cooking meth, this method combines all of the ingredients into one container, typically a two-liter soda bottle. The reaction occurs and produces a hot, fast reaction and is an explosion and fire hazard.

The use of this method is a danger to law enforcement and civilians from explosions, fires, and exposure to dangerous chemicals.

What to look for:

  • Clear, screw-top plastic containers (soda bottles) with brown fluids, and white and dark solids
  • Organic solvent containers
  • White gas, ether, starter fluid
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • NH4NO3 (such as ammonium nitrate found in cold packs)
  • Lithium (such as battery debris)
  • NaOH (such as lye or Drano™)
  • Hydrochloric or sulfuric acid
  • Household salt in large containers

Refer to Appendix A in EPA's voluntary guidelines for more information on methods of production and their associated hazards.

Open Stove Method

Process

There are multiple methods that fall under the open stove method. Many use pseudoephedrine or, less commonly, phenyl-2-propanone (P2P) in the method. The open stove method has a heating process that produces more vapors than the one-pot method, potentially leading to more contamination, odors, or flammable or toxic air contamination.

What to look for:

  • Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine
  • Phenyl-2-propanone (phenylacetone or P2P)
  • Acetone (such as household paint stripper or methanol like HEET™)
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Broken or disassembled lithium batteries

Refer to Appendix A in EPA's voluntary guidelines for more information on methods of production and their associated hazards.

 

Property owners are responsible for proper cleanup and costs.

Owners who decide to cleanup buildings on their own should be aware that household building materials and furniture may absorb contaminants and retain odors. They should consider and evaluate the possibility of hazardous chemical fumes from furniture. Owners should follow the cleanup guidance and review EPA's voluntary guidelines. They can also hire private cleanup contractors to conduct building cleanup.

Young children should not, generally, go through the decontamination process.

When a meth lab is seized and arrests are made, children residing at the property are taken into protective custody by child protective services. Chemical exposures of these children are a concern, and there are conflicting opinions over the need to formally decontaminate children when they are taken into custody.

The Department of Health Services agrees with recommendations of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (NADEC) that young children should not undergo the trauma of rigorous field decontamination unless medically indicated. The NADEC has developed a protocol for the medical evaluation of children found in drug labs.

Last Revised: April 26, 2018

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