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Methamphetamine Laboratories

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 made in clandestine (illegal) laboratories in houses, apartments, hotel rooms, vehicles, and outdoor locations. When a laboratory is shut down, equipment and chemicals are removed by law enforcement, but the property may remain contaminated with methamphetamine and hazardous chemical residues.

The greatest risk surrounding these labs is the dangerous nature of the persons making and using this illegal drug. Individuals who believe they have discovered a clandestine laboratory should immediately notify law enforcement and should not enter the suspected area.

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. Meth can be swallowed, inhaled, injected or smoked. It is extremely addictive and longterm 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 “recipes,” but most require over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. Most processes include the use of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), 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.

What are the 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. Some VOCs may 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. Metals such as 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.

What is the best way to clean a former meth lab property?

See the Illinois Department of Public Health Fact Sheet, “Methamphetamine Laboratories: Guidelines for Clean-Up” and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency document, “Voluntary Guidelines for Methamphetamine Laboratory Cleanup”.

Is sampling the property necessary? Who should do it?

There is no Illinois policy regarding sampling at former meth labs. Property owners who are concerned about liability may decide to have their properties tested. If sampling is performed, it should only be done by a worker trained according to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.

What cleanup levels are considered safe?

No cleanup 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.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has developed a health-based standard for methamphetamine residue of 1.5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters (µg/cm²) that provides the best current standard to use for reducing exposure to meth residue.

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.

How is it possible to find out if a property has been used as a meth lab?

Your local law enforcement agency should have the most complete record of former meth labs in the area. The Department maintains a list of properties from reports it receives from the Illinois State Police through the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Also, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) maintains a list of meth lab properties on the DEA website. However, many meth labs are not reported to law enforcement.

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. Rev 7/12