Methamphetamine Laboratories
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Meth Labs

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:

  • Unusual, strong odors (like cat urine, ether, ammonia, acetone or other chemicals).
  • Residences with windows blacked out.
  • Renters who pay their landlords in cash. (Most drug dealers trade exclusively in cash.)
  • Lots of traffic - people coming and going at unusual times. There may be little traffic during the day, but at night the activity increases dramatically.
  • Excessive trash including large amounts of items such as: antifreeze containers, lantern fuel cans, red chemically stained coffee filters, drain cleaner and duct tape.
  • Unusual amounts of clear glass containers being brought into the home.
  • Windows blacked out or covered by aluminum foil, plywood, sheets, blankets, etc.
  • Secretive / protective area surrounding the residence (like video cameras, alarm systems, guard dogs, reinforced doors, electrified fencing).
  • Persons exiting the structure to smoke
  • Little traffic during the day, but high traffic at late hours; including different vehicles arriving and staying for short periods of time.
  • Little or no mail, furniture, visible trash and no newspaper delivery.

The presence of the following items could indicate the existence of meth labs:

  • Alcohol
  • Ether
  • Benzene
  • Toluene/Paint Thinner
  • Freon
  • Acetone
  • Chloroform
  • Camp Stove Fuel/Coleman Fuel
  • Starting Fluid
  • Anhydrous Ammonia
  • White Gasoline
  • Phenyl-2-Propane
  • Phenylacetone
  • Phenylpropanolamine
  • Iodine Crystals
  • Red Phosphorous
  • Black Iodine
  • Lye (Red Devil Lye)
  • Drano
  • Muriatic/Hydrochloric Acid
  • Battery Acid/Sulfuric Acid
  • Epsom Salts
  • Batteries/Lithium
  • Sodium Metal
  • Wooden Matches
  • Propane Cylinders
  • Hot Plates
  • Ephedrine (over-the-counter)
  • Cold Tablets
  • Bronchodialators
  • Energy Boosters
  • Rock Salt
  • Diet Aids

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