Many people don’t consider meth labs to be an environmental exposure for their business location, they are focused on more common site pollution concerns like mold or a spill. But meth labs are being discovered on properties all over the country, and the effects of this drug residue can require extensive cleanup and potential health concerns.

Where are meth labs typically discovered?

When we think of meth labs we typically think of remotely-located dingy trailers. Most people certainly don’t comprehend how widespread these illegal labs have become, nor do they know how dangerous the chemicals are, even after the labs have been abandoned. Meth labs hide in plain sight all over the country, from motel rooms, to campgrounds, to rental properties, and vacant structures. Fabrics, clothing, carpets, wallpapers, and other furnishings can soak up the chemical residue which can be inhaled or absorbed through skin. Exposure to the associated chemicals can lead to nausea, difficulty breathing, coughing, chemical burns, and in worst case scenarios, even death.

How difficult is it to clean up a meth lab?

Remediation of this exposure is extremely difficult.  In some cases the only real way to fix the situation is to tear down the structure and rebuild it. Part of the problem is that drywall and wood studs can absorb the chemicals and off-gas into the building for years. This can be compounded by the fact that in many states, neither sellers nor realtors are required by law to disclose if a property has been used as a meth lab in the past, so an unwitting owner may buy a pre-existing pollution condition.  Another problem is that properties that are connected to onsite septic systems have a direct pathway to the subsurface, allowing both site soils and potentially groundwater to be contaminated by the illegal disposal of regulated substances down drains or toilets. Furthermore, the risk of explosion may lead to structural fires, with associated release of contaminated smoke, soot, and fumes resulting in bodily injury/property damage to occupants, neighbors, first responders, etc.

When a property owner finds that an illegal meth lab was abandoned on their property by a former tenant or guest, and that person cannot be located, the property owner will be left with the responsibility of cleanup. Cleanup can be extremely expensive as it must be performed by professionals. And while cleanup and inspection are occurring, the property owner will lose income for every day they are unable to rent out the space.

News stories involving pollution and meth labs:

Meth lab caused fire in casino hotel room
Police in New Jersey charged a man with setting up a methamphetamine lab that caused a fire in an Atlantic City casino hotel room, leading four floors to be evacuated. Damage from the fire was contained to the room on the 44th floor of the casino’s west tower where the fire occurred. A State Police hazardous-materials team dismantled the lab.

Meth Lab Discovered In Your Property: What You Need To Know
How can a rental owner look for clues their rental is being used as a meth lab?  The property owner is recognized as the responsible party for clean up of a meth lab site.  So, in the case of an owner-occupant who was using the property for cooking meth, they may have no choice than to try to sell the property and not disclose its former use.  This is a real risk if the property was never identified as a meth lab.

Meth investigations pose special challenges, police say
After examining several apartments, local law enforcement leaders agree that investigating methamphetamine cases poses special challenges, especially in the realm of officer safety. The chemicals involved in the drug’s manufacture can have dangerous secondary side effects that could affect not only first responders but even construction workers and carpenters responsible for cleaning up a particular lab, Maciol said. Once a meth lab is investigated, he said, the property or home has to be stripped down to the studs, essentially, for cleanup.

The story of self-storage and clandestine methamphetamine labs
A clandestine laboratory is one used for the primary purpose of illicitly (illegally) manufacturing controlled substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine (meth). Clandestine labs are typically small, utilizing common household appliances, glassware and readily available chemicals. While some clandestine laboratories may be located in industrial areas, they are most frequently located in residential areas, and are increasingly showing up in self-storage facilities. Self-storage facilities are particularly dangerous for this activity due to the lack of proper ventilation and temperature controls that add to the potential for fire, explosion and exposure to humans.

Major International Meth Bust at Storage Facility In Santa Rosa
The bust of an international drug and money laundering operation headquartered in Australia has led to the discovery of more than 560 pounds of crystal methamphetamine in a Sonoma County storage facility. The joint investigation began after the DEA received intelligence in January 2017 relating to a conspiracy to export drugs from California to Australia.

Methamphetamines Are Back and On the Rise Across New Hampshire Hotels
From the outside, the hotels don’t look like “drug dens” – the buildings are well kept, no trash lying around. One’s even brand new. But in the past six months, the police have visited these hotels hundreds of times for drug activity, including three methamphetamine arrests in a single night last month. These hotels are the perfect spot for dealers looking for convenience. They’re located between Nashua and Manchester, right off the highway and offer extended stays.