A meth lab is a clandestine drug lab. It is a collection of materials and ingredients used to manufacture illegal drugs. Methamphetamine is made mostly from common household ingredients. When these ingredients are mixed and "cooked" together they make a dangerous drug and potentially harmful chemical mixtures that can remain on household surfaces for months or years after "cooking" is over. There may be health effects in people exposed to lab chemicals before, during and after the drug-making process. Therefore, each meth lab is a potential hazardous waste site, requiring evaluation, and possibly cleanup, by hazardous waste professionals.
There are possible health effects in people exposed to meth lab chemicals before, during and after the drug-making process. While many of the ingredients used to make illicit drugs are common household products, both the production process and the mixtures produced can be extremely dangerous. Jail and hospital staff members have become ill from exposure to meth lab chemicals on the clothing of people living or working at lab sites. There have even been reports of people who have moved into former lab sites and have suffered chest and respiratory symptoms months after lab chemicals were removed.
Meth labs have been discovered in hotel and motel rooms, restaurants, barns, private homes and apartments, storage facilities, fields, vacant buildings and (moving or stationary) vehicles. A minimum of 5 to 7 pounds of chemical waste are produced for each pound of meth manufactured.
After a lab has been abandoned or shut down by law enforcement, the property is usually found to be contaminated with hazardous chemicals. Methamphetamine is made (or ‘cooked’) from common, easily-available materials, using one of several basic chemical processes. There are hundreds of chemical products and substances that are used interchangeably to produce meth. The substitution of one chemical for another in meth recipes may cause the cooking process to be more hazardous (resulting in fire or explosion) or may result in a finished product with unwanted or dangerous effects. Many dangerous chemical ingredients are used to make meth. Also, chemical by-products such as toxic phosphine gas may be formed during meth manufacture. This may occur through planned chemical interaction, or by processing errors, such as increasing cooking temperatures too rapidly.
Health effects caused by exposure to meth lab chemicals depend on:
(1) the lab process and chemicals used
(2) the amount of chemical and length of exposure
(3) the age and health of the person exposed.
Chemicals may enter the body by being breathed, eaten, or absorbed through the skin. An acute exposure is one that occurs over a relatively short period of time.
Acute exposure to meth lab chemicals can cause:
Death could result when exposure is to a particularly toxic chemical or the person exposed is particularly vulnerable. Acute exposures can occur in non-drug users during or immediately after ‘cooking’.
Less severe exposures can result in symptoms such as:
These symptoms have been known to occur in people exposed to active labs, but also in people ---particularly law enforcement personnel and other first responders who have entered a drug lab before the site has been cleaned or ventilated. These less-severe symptoms usually go away after several hours of exposure to fresh air. Exposures to lab chemicals or byproducts over a long period of time - called chronic exposures - may cause both long-term and short-term health effects.
Long-term exposures to VOCs may result in:
Even at low levels, exposures for long periods by people living in a former lab site could result in serious health effects.