METHAMPHETAMINE LABORATORIES AND CLEANUP
Methamphetamine, also known as
"meth," "speed," "crank," "crystal" and
"ice," is a very powerful man- made drug that affects the central
nervous system. It is illegally made, often in makeshift laboratories set up in
rented property such as apartments or hotel rooms. After the laboratory is shut
down, the property is often contaminated with hazardous chemicals. No one
should enter a place that has been used as a meth lab unless they are wearing
appropriate personal protection equipment. This fact sheet will answer some
general questions about meth labs and cleanup.
The greatest risk surrounding these labs is the
dangerous nature of the persons making and using this illegal drug. This fact
sheet assumes that law enforcement authorities have arrested the persons
operating the meth lab or that these persons have vacated the property.
WHAT DOES METH DO TO PEOPLE WHO TAKE
The effects of meth are similar to those of
cocaine. It gives the user a "rush" or intense feeling of pleasure
when taken. Meth is a popular drug because the effects last longer than cocaine
and it is relatively easy to make. Because meth can be made using materials
that are readily available in the U.S., it is sometimes called the "poor
man's cocaine." Meth can be injected, "snorted," taken by mouth
or smoked. Long-term use can lead to physical dependence.
Meth causes people who use the drug to
experience periods of high energy, rapid speech and breathing, increased body
temperature and increased blood pressure. Many chronic users also experience
severe depression, paranoia, insomnia, loss of appetite, delusions and tremors.
Continual use or large doses can cause delusions, hallucinations and violent
WHAT KINDS OF CHEMICALS ARE USED TO MAKE
Meth can be made using many different chemical
processes. Most of these include the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs),
explosives, acids, bases, metals and chemical salts. Many steps are involved in
making meth, and other harmful chemicals can be formed during the process. As a
result, hundreds of different chemicals can contribute to the contamination of
Some materials in a building can absorb
chemicals. Examples include carpeting, wall board, ceiling tile, wood and
fabric. Furniture or draperies also may become contaminated. If residues enter
the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, other areas in a building
can become contaminated. Soil or groundwater may become contaminated if
chemicals are disposed of in a septic system or dumped outside.
WHAT ARE POTENTIAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF
EXPOSURE TO CHEMICALS USED IN METH LABS?
The potential health effects depend on
- the specific chemicals to which a person is
- how much of each chemical to which a person
- how long a person is exposed, and
- the health condition of the person being
Exposure to meth residues may cause symptoms
similar to those experienced by meth users.
Exposure to VOCs may cause symptoms such as
nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion
and breathing difficulties. Benzene is a VOC known to cause cancer.
Acids or bases will cause a burning sensation
on the skin and in mucous membranes, and can cause severe eye damage. Exposure
to metals and salts can cause a wide range of health effects including
respiratory irritation, decreased mental function, anemia, kidney damage and
birth defects. Lead and mercury are particularly hazardous.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CLEANING UP THE
The owner of the property is ultimately
responsible for the cleanup. The owner also may be legally responsible if
persons get sick after they re-enter a contaminated building.
WHAT KIND OF SAMPLING IS NECESSARY? WHO
SHOULD DO IT?
Since there are so many ways to make meth, each
situation will likely be different. Different manufacturing methods use
different chemicals. Identifying how the drug was manufactured may help to
determine a sampling method.
If sampling is necessary, it should only be
done by a worker trained according to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Administration standards. Preferably, a certified industrial hygienist should
be consulted before any sampling is done.
WHAT CLEAN-UP LEVELS ARE CONSIDERED
No clean-up levels exist for many chemicals
associated with meth labs. A risk assessment may be necessary to evaluate the
potential for exposure on a case-by-case basis. A worst-case exposure scenario
would be that of an infant or toddler wearing as little as a diaper being
exposed to chemicals by breathing, touching and hand-to-mouth activity.
Until the former meth lab is cleaned up, no one
should enter the area without appropriate personal protective equipment. In
addition, no one should rent, purchase or occupy a former meth lab property
unless cleanup has occurred.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Environmental Health
525 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield, IL 62761
TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466
This fact sheet was supported in part by
funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
Liability Act trust fund through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.