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 IT?
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 behavior.
WHAT KINDS OF CHEMICALS ARE USED TO MAKE METH?
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 a property.
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 exposed,
how much of each chemical to which a person is exposed,
how long a person is exposed, and
the health condition of the person being exposed.
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 PROPERTY?
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 SAFE?
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.
Some of the consequences of meth use are cardiovascular problems such as irregular heartbeat, rapid heart rate, increase in blood pressure, and stroke. Hyperthermia and convulsions may happen when the user overdoses and is not treated immediately. Studies have shown that as much as 50% of the dopamine cells in the brain can be damaged by prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of methamphetamine and that serotonin-containing nerve cells may be damaged even more extensively.Methamphetamine abuse can lead to psychotic behavior such as intense paranoia, hallucinations, and out-of-control rages which can result in violent episodes. Long-term meth use may can cause anxiety, insomnia, and dependency. (It also makes your teeth rot).