Sites that produce methamphetamine may be called meth labs, but they bear little resemblance to legitimate pharmacological laboratories. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defines a clandestine laboratory (a.k.a. "meth labs") as “an illicit operation consisting of a sufficient combination of apparatus and chemicals that either has been or could be used in the manufacture or synthesis of controlled substances.” In meth labs, the “cook” often handles ignitable, corrosive, reactive, and toxic chemicals in the presence of an open flame or heat source. Some of these substances are extremely harmful or lethal when inhaled or touched; others react violently when they are heated, immersed in water, exposed to air, or combined. Although clandestine meth labs use a number of manufacturing methods, all produce volatile chemicals and toxic vapors that present significant health and safety hazards to the meth cook, children, and others who enter the site, including law enforcement personnel and other members of the response team. People in the surrounding community also may be at risk. The long-term effects of exposure to some of these substances have not been established. However, many of these chemicals are known to damage vital body organs or to cause cancer and other adverse health conditions.
Illegal meth labs can be set up wherever activities may be hidden from view, often in locations that are especially dangerous to children, such as sleeping areas, eating areas where food is also stored and prepared, and garages. These makeshift meth labs and their dangerous components (for example, chemical containers and electrical wiring) have been discovered in vehicles of all types, hotel and motel rooms, storage lockers and units, mobile homes and surrounding areas, apartments, ranches, houses, campgrounds, rural and urban rental properties with absentee landlords, abandoned dumps, restrooms, houseboats, and other locations. Meth can be produced in as few as 6 to 8 hours using apparatus and cookware that can be dismantled rapidly and stored or relocated to avoid detection.
What to do if you suspect meth labs are located near you...
Do not enter a site that you think may be used for cooking meth. Meth labs present extreme dangers from explosions and exposure to hazardous chemicals. Breathing the fumes, and handling substances, can cause injury and even death.Meth labs are considered hazardous waste sites and should only be entered by trained and equipped professionals. Never handle materials you suspect were used for making meth, such as contaminated glassware and needles. Skin contact can result in burns or poisoning. Handling items can also cause some of the chemicals to explode on contact with water or air. Consider that when professionals respond to a meth lab, they do not enter the building until they have put on chemically resistant suits and boots, special gloves and respirators.
Here are some things to look for in identifying meth labs:
The presence of the following items could indicate the existence of meth labs: