The number of clandestine methamphetamine labs has been rapidly increasing over the years in Indiana, posing a serious danger to Hoosiers. Methamphetamine production consists of the mixing of volatile solvents, corrosives, reactive metals and ephedrine/pseudo-ephedrine. Such reactions off-gas various residues and produce approximately six pounds of waste for every pound of meth. Meth labs have been discovered in homes, apartments, hotel and motel rooms, mobile homes, restaurants, sheds, and motor vehicles. Signs of a methamphetamine lab include an abnormal amount of chemical products, strong or irritating pungent odors, or distinctive trash such as battery strips.
The largest contaminant left behind from a meth lab is the drug itself, methamphetamine. Like smoke damage, tiny droplets containing the drug are deposited inside the home and on household goods. This leaves a meth residue coating surfaces, absorbing into porous materials, and contaminating the forced-air heating/cooling (HVAC) system. The drug is potent, and so exposure to a small amount could cause adverse health effects. If not decontaminated, the drug lab can leave toxic meth residue behind indefinitely. Even the smoking of meth will also create residue in a home that is above the levels considered safe by most states. Clean up is required in Indiana if the methamphetamine contamination is above the action level of ≤ 0.5 µg/100 cm2.
In addition to the meth residue, labs are a public health concern because of the hazardous chemicals and waste byproducts that can be spilled or deposited on floors, walls, furniture, and left in household plumbing.
There are three key exposure pathways to the meth residue including inhalation, absorption through the skin, and ingestion through hand to mouth contamination. This can cause a variety of health problems, especially for children. Young children are a high risk population because they spend approximately 80%-90% of their time indoors and are rapidly growing. They are also most likely to be exposed to meth through the hand-to-mouth pathway (especially in children who are teething). Possible chronic health effects from exposure to methamphetamine lab residue can include disorientation, respiratory irritability, behavioral changes, neurological damage, liver damage, or kidney damage.
Adverse health effects have been reported by law enforcement personnel and other first responders who have been at the scene before the property was ventilated. Acute health effects from exposure to meth lab contaminants can include dizziness, lack of coordination, shortness of breath, chest pain, and chemical irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, or mouth.
The main respondents involved in the process of seizing a methamphetamine lab and ultimately cleaning it include the Indiana State Police, Local Health Departments, and private (for-hire) Qualified Inspectors. The Indiana State Police removes bulk chemicals, reactions, and those things that pose an immediate threat to public safety and the environment. Local Health Departments protect public health by ensuring that the contaminated properties remain vacant until they are cleaned up. The Indiana State Department of Health has standardized and regulates a process to turn contaminated properties into clean properties. The Indiana State Department of Health also trains and oversees the private (for-hire) Qualified Inspectors. Qualified Inspectors are hired by property owners to clean homes, test them, and ultimately certify them as ready to be reoccupied or sold.