meth
• Frequently Asked Questions
 

 

FAQ—What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive illegal drug (amphetamine) that can be manufactured with the use of common household chemicals (see list below) and cold medication.  There are several different types of processes or “recipes” used to make or “cook” meth.   During the cooking process hazardous household chemicals are combined and reacted through various steps to chemically change cold medication into meth.  It is said thought that the addiction is so strong that a one-time use will create an addict for life.  There will be over 20,000 meth labs busted in the United States in 2004 and 1 in 4 will have children present.

The acute and chronic health effects associated with using, making or exposure to the left over meth residues can include:  respiratory illness, central nervous system failure and target organ damage.

Once prepared meth can be injected, snorted, smoked or swallowed.  It is believed that taking it just once will create an addiction forever.  Because of this, the repeat use rate is extremely high.  Up to 90% of meth addicts begin making and using meth again within days of being released from jail.

Common chemicals used to make meth include:

* Coleman camping fuel
* Ether
* Red Devil lye
* Drano drain cleaner
* Lithium batteries
* Muratic acid
* Matches
* Toluene
* Xylene
* Gun cleaner
* Anhydrous ammonia
* Pseudoephedrine cold medication

One method for making meth requires a heat source such as a stove, an electric hotplate, etc. Because of this houses are the most popular locations for meth labs.  All of the components and hardware for a meth lab can neatly fit into a large box—making it very transportable.  Meth labs can be found in cars, mobile homes, hotels/motels, outhouses, fish houses and tree houses. 

Anhydrous ammonia is a major component for one of the preferred production methods.  It is an agricultural fertilizer that is a liquid under pressure and very toxic as a gas.  This chemical is often times stolen from agricultural cooperatives and placed into propane cylinders (gas-grill type), fire extinguishers, Thermos bottles and just about anything else.  The fact that anhydrous ammonia is a favorite drug making chemical, and is used in large volumes by the agricultural industry, explains why meth labs are commonly found in rural areas.

FAQ—How can making methamphetamine contaminate my property and what are the health risks?

In addition to the enormous law enforcement and social problems caused by illegal meth manufacturing, there can be very serious public health and environmental problems found at each lab site. 

The manufacturing or “cooking” of methamphetamine results in the generation of a number of different hazardous wastes.  Liquid, solid, and gaseous wastes are produced and most often not properly handled or disposed of.  Discarded waste can be dumped in the yard, pitched out a window, buried, burned or dumped down a sink or floor drain.

Federal, state or county environmental laws require and govern the removal and disposal of these hazardous wastes. 

Toxic vapor and smoke from the cooking process allow chemical and methamphetamine residues to be deposited on all interior surfaces including:  walls, ceilings, floors, doors, cabinets (inside and out) and furniture.  Porous items such as carpet and upholstery readily absorb the drug residue into the fabric.  These residues remain and provide a continual source of exposure unless removed.  In most instances a home needs to be properly evaluated and decontaminated before being deemed habitable by a public health official.

After a drug raid occurs law enforcement officials contact a federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) contractor to remove only the bulk hazardous materials from the property—usually found in jars, jugs and cans.  The property owner is then typically responsible for hiring a professional contractor to complete a thorough evaluation of the home and determine if residual contamination remains.

The potential for both indoor and outdoor problems therefore exist.  ADS completes a thorough field inspection which includes observations, on-site testing and laboratory analysis to determine the extent and magnitude of contamination.  Samples are collected from all suspect areas.

Outdoor problems can include:

Dumping and burial of waste—can allow chemical wastes to seep into the ground and possibly contaminate the groundwater and on-site drinking water well. 
Burning—is sometimes completed to get rid of trash and chemical waste.  Burn pits or barrels are often found in rural areas.  The ash and soil under the burn areas can leave high heavy metal concentrations and other toxic chemicals.
Septic tank—if the on-site sewer system involves a septic tank, the disposal of chemical wastes down a drain can have serious consequences.  Toxic chemicals cannot only destroy the biological treatment of sewage in the tank but can also cause soil and ground water contamination if chemicals leach into the drain field.
Drinking well—if the home is served by an on-site drinking water well, wellwater can become contaminated from dumped or buried chemicals.

Indoor exposure related problems can include:

Chemical stains—chemical spillage can be found in the form of puddles, stains or a crystalline powder on carpet, countertops and around drains where disposal occurred.
Drug residues—usually cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Methamphetamine residue readily adheres to both porous (upholstery, clothing) and relatively non-porous surfaces (walls, woodwork, countertops, tile, vinyl floors, etc.).  The concentration of the residue present is a function of many different factors including:  the type of manufacturing process used; the length of time manufacturing took place; the location(s) where manufacturing took place; how active or the size of the operation (small or large).  State or local cleanup guidelines must be consulted when evaluating possible decontamination solutions.  The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has established a methamphetamine exposure guideline limit of 1 microgram per square foot of surface area.  Interior non-porous surfaces are usually cleaned and decontaminated while porous items are either cleaned or discarded.
Ventilation system—must not be overlooked and can be the most problematic issue to address.  The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the house, if so equipped, can serve as a vehicle by which vapor or smoke from the cooking process can move throughout the entire home.  Even if cooking activities were exclusively set up in the kitchen of a home it is very likely that significant concentration levels of meth can be found on all floors.  The ducting system (supply and return lines) become coated with methamphetamine and must be either properly cleaned and/or sealed—encapsulating or locking-in the residue to prevent future exposure.  Only highly competent contractors must be used to ensure a proper encapsulate application.

FAQ--What’sBeing Done by government to Address the Public Health and Environmental Problems?

As a result of this growing national problem many states have either adopted, or are in the process of, rules requiring that a property undergo a formal assessment to determine if environmental contamination or health exposures exist.  The development of rules will allow states to track and manage properties to ensure that no one will unsuspectingly purchase a home, rent an apartment or sleep in a motel without it first being decontaminated. 

As states continue to react, seminars, conferences and workgroups convene to address the need to achieve consensus on testing and decontamination procedures.  How much is enough?  To answer this question, and consequently require property owners to take specific action often at their expense, there needs to be an observed exposure standard.   

Currently there is no national exposure standard for methamphetamine.  Most states that have developed action limits (cleanup goals) for meth for their rules or ordinances have done so without a health based determination.  It is likely that the federal government will request the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry (ATSDR) to develop such a standard for meth.  Once develop, this standard will represent the allowable exposure concentration for children and adults with the potential of exposure beyond 8 hours a day, five days a week.

 

FAQ—I suspect (or know) that I’ve had a lab on my property, where do I start?

Start by confirming that lab operations existed on the property.  Get a copy of the police report and read it thoroughly.  Information from that report may provide very important information such as:  whether the lab was active or in the process of being set up; where in the home or on the property manufacturing took place; the size of the lab operation; the method of production used; any additional notes from the bust as observations from law enforcement (i.e. chemicals dumped behind shed, etc.). 

If the property was posted and a notice has been received from law enforcement or the health department requiring further testing action, read through it thoroughly.  Contact the issuing department and discuss with them what the exact requirements are.  They will likely direct you to a developed fact sheet, a local ordinance or a state rule.  At this point you may wish to get a qualified professional involved (ADS) to assist with evaluating and/or decontaminating the home properly to ensure compliance with any local or state requirement.

FAQ—To Assess Prior Decontamination Or Not?

In some instances it is preferred to complete testing (assessment activities) prior to completing any decontamination work.  This question is frequently asked and both have their advantages and disadvantages as outlined below.  A comparison is outlined below.

Assessment before Decontamination

May be necessary (required) if certain unknowns cannot be answered with detailed data obtained such as septic tank waste water samples to determine if the waste water has hazardous characteristics.
Advantage—determines the extent (how widespread) and magnitude (how much) a property is contaminated.  Knowing the extent and magnitude of the problem allows for more accurate decontamination work to be prescribed.  This in turn keeps decontamination costs at a minimum. 
Advantage—the site visit allows for photographs and notes to be collected on the layout and construction of the dwelling for the preparation of a much more accurate decontamination cost proposal.
Disadvantage—cost.  Costs are incurred for work performed.

 

Decontaminate without first Assessing

Advantage—forgo any assessment costs.
Disadvantage—does not allow for the extent and magnitude of the problem to be defined.  This can result in “overdoing” decontamination activities, which means higher labor and project costs.  
Disadvantage—in cases where high levels of methamphetamine exist standard decontamination activities may not be sufficient.   In these cases it is possible to “underdo” decontamination work, which would require the labor force to return to the property to complete the job.  This would result in higher costs due to the need to remobilize.