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Identifying Meth Labs: Breeding Grounds for Toxic Environments

Identifying Meth Labs: Breeding Grounds for Toxic Environments

“Breaking Bad”, a show about a chemistry teacher who decides to try and earn more money by converting an old RV into a mobile meth lab, ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2013 and remains a popular and well-liked TV show today. While the premise and events of the show are fictional, it is true that many makeshift laboratories have cropped up across the country in an attempt to illicitly manufacture methamphetamine. Many people, both fans and people who have never seen “Breaking Bad”, are aware of the dangerous reputation that is attached to meth labs. Beyond the illegality of these labs, they’ve also gained a certain infamy for being an extremely toxic environment and harmful to an individual’s health. In addition to a poisonous environment, these labs have been known to injure or kill people in fires and explosions. Sadly, these explosions and fires are not all that rare when it comes to meth labs. In fact, they are almost expected. Although on the surface, a meth lab might not seem so serious, the health consequences and risks of trying to cook up meth in haphazard, makeshift labs hidden away in vehicles and apartments can have a huge impact on an individual’s health. Even individuals in the surrounding area or family members who live under the same roof as a meth lab can find their health compromised. Take this recent news out of Florida as an example. As reported one month ago by the Tampa Bay Times, a lab for illicit drug production that was located inside an apartment complex exploded and displaced residents from neighboring units.

What Do Meth Labs Look Like?

As methamphetamine misuse and addiction rises across the country, more people are turning to meth labs as a means of production to stock meth for a personal habit or to sell the product in order to reinvest the profits into a meth addiction andor personal gain. States that lead the country in terms of number of meth labs include Missouri, Tennessee, and Indiana. Meth labs tend to be found more frequently in the Midwest and South. Although many of these states have lower populations than states like California, New York, and Texas, the number of meth labs and meth lab related incidents is much lower, as reported by Business Insider. Meth labs are much more likely to be found in rural areas and small cities. Meth labs can be set up in various locations including, sheds, vehicles, apartments, houses, and even hotels. Typically, though, kitchens are popular and common spots to cook up meth. Rural locations in forests and woods are also sought -after areas, offering seclusion and a place away from pedestrian traffic and prying neighbors. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) notes that meth labs can vary in size and scope of meth production. Labs can be classified based on the amount of meth that a lab is able to put out in one production cycle. The DOJ defines large laboratories, — also known as super labs, — as those that can “produce 10 pounds or more of the drug per production cycle.” Meanwhile, small labs, — sometimes known as box labs, — are identified as those that “produce as little as an ounce or less of the drug and are small enough to fit in a box or backpack.” Meth labs are most easily identified by spotting certain pieces of equipment and stockpiles of ingredients that can be used in meth production. Many household items such as coffee filters and kitty litter can be used in production processes. The DOJ reports that the following are signs that could indicate the existence of a meth lab:

  • Strange odors, including ether, ammonia, or acetone
  • Large amounts of trash, (to the point of being excessive), especially any type of chemical container, coffee filters, red-stained cloths, and duct tape rolls
  • Curtains that are always drawn over windows or windows covered with other materials such as aluminum foil
  • Chemical dumping or waste
  • Unfamiliar visitors who visit at strange times
  • Many attempts to ensure privacy through signage (“No Trespassing” or “Beware Dog”)
  • Extensive efforts to plant hedges and trees to obscure the view of the property
  • Secretive occupants who tend to keep to themselves and might be described as secluded or unfriendly

Propane tanks with fittings that have since turned blue, stockpiles of pills that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, and cookware (such as frying pans) that have a powdery residue. While some of these signs can also be found in daily life and aren’t necessarily a sign of anything, whenever these kinds of indicators are found in excess is when meth production could be a possibility. In general, meth production involves a great deal of everyday items. It is only when a stockpile of products and strange assortment of trash is uncovered that illicit activity is suspected.

The Exterior Of A Meth Lab

During the process of making meth, toxic fumes and strong odors are produced. These fumes partly contribute to the toxic environment in meth labs. Therefore, individuals who are familiar with the meth-making process will try to properly ventilate the lab. Fans are installed and windows are opened in an attempt to move fresher air throughout the lab. However, this ventilation also succeeds in moving some of those potent fumes outside of the lab, making them noticeable to neighbors and people passing by. Burned and dead patches in the surrounding vegetation can also indicate the presence of a meth lab due to chemical dumping.

What Makes Meth Labs So Toxic?

Many of the chemicals and other ingredients used in meth production are highly toxic, even though many of these materials can be easily acquired. Some ingredients used in meth production include materials like antifreeze, iodine, and kitty litter. As you can see, these kinds of items are found in many homes, but ingesting them or using them improperly can be highly toxic. Hazardous chemicals that burn grass and vegetation when dumped can be a telltale sign of an active meth lab, but they also actively harm occupants inside the lab. These chemicals release vapors during chemical reactions that can damage the membranes of skin, eyes, and lungs. Repeated exposure to meth can cause a host of problems in an individual. Even coming into contact with skin can create the infamous meth sores and irritate skin or cause an infection. Meth exposure increases a person’s risk of experiencing effects like nausea, skin and eye infections, burns, dizziness, vomiting, breathing difficulties, confusion, and throat irritation. Over time, constantly inhaling chemical vapors can increase the risk of developing some cancers. The intensity to which side effects from meth exposure will occur depends on the specific types of chemicals one has been exposed to, the amount of that chemical, the current health of the individual, and the duration of exposure. The longer and more frequent someone is exposed to these chemicals in meth labs, the worse their symptoms might be expected to be.

Illegal Chemical Dumps And Radioactivity

As we’ve mentioned previously, the production of meth involves a lot of illegal dumping of the chemicals used in manufacturing. The dumping of these chemicals, metals, and other hazardous materials onto the ground can pave the way for exposed soil to soak up these radioactive chemicals and toxic materials. Continued dumps of chemicals and trash like empty bottles and containers harm the environment and begin to contaminate that specific area. People who live near a meth lab can easily be affected by these illegal chemical dumps. The effects of the meth production refuse can contaminate an area, including pieces of earth outside and in interior spaces such as homes, for years to come. When meth labs are found, they must be safely dismantled and cleaned by experts who know how to handle the toxic materials found in the lab without compromising their safety and the safety of people around them. Meth labs must be meticulously cleaned before the area can be deemed safe once again. Sadly, in some cases, entire buildings can be deemed unsafe and evacuated or demolished, displacing residents. The toxins from meth production can also affect the health of neighbors in both short and long-term ways, depending on the intensity and duration of exposure. It is possible for contamination levels from a former meth lab to test higher than average in newly converted homes, since the toxins can be absorbed by things such as carpet or drapes. [middle-callout]

Second-Hand Exposure To Meth Toxins In Children

Since meth labs can be constructed inside of homes and established in kitchens, it is sadly not unheard of to find meth labs located inside a family’s apartment or house. The toxicity of meth, as we’ve come to see, not only applies to those who make and use it, but to neighbors and children who live where the lab is located as well. Generally speaking, children are not in a position to remove themselves from the toxic environment of a meth lab, whereas an adult who is aware of the meth manufacturing could remove themselves from the location or alert the proper authorities. Children whose parents manufacture meth at home to use, to sell, or both, are exposed to large quantities of toxins and for long periods of time. These two factors only increase the chances of a child experiencing severe health problems. Plenty of household objects can absorb or pick up the toxins in the environment. Young children especially are prone to putting objects in their mouths. In this way, everyday items like blankets, carpet, drapes, pillows, couches, and bottles that have become contaminated can end up being put in a child’s mouth. Toxins in other places can simply be inhaled by a child. Meth toxins can even cling to hair, making a parent’s hair a suddenly contaminated space. Many children in these situations, in essence, are surrounded by a toxic environment no matter where they turn. Unattended needles that are left out carelessly can cause a child to prick themselves. Sinks and toilets suddenly become dangerous spots for encounters with chemical dumps and other manufacturing byproducts. Silverware and plates used for dinner still retain some residue. A 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola that is being used to store meth is easily mistaken for soda by a child. Children have been injured or killed as a result of ingesting drinks they mistook for water, soda, or juice. This repeated exposure to meth and continued residence in a toxic environment can lead to problems such as kidney failure, birth defects for pregnant women, respiratory problems, spleen and liver damage, brain damage, and death.

The Infamous Meth Lab Explosions

If meth labs are known for one thing, it’s probably their tendency to blow up  — or at least cause some serious fires. These fires and explosions are very normal in meth labs. The two are almost synonymous. No matter where a lab is located or who is operating it, fires and explosions are almost a guarantee for some lab somewhere in the country. These catastrophes occur due to the combination of toxic chemicals and compounds that are mixed together in the manufacturing process while heated over a stove. None of these chemicals ought to be taken lightly. They are hazardous and have the potential to really harm a person’s health. In addition, many of the chemicals used to manufacture meth are highly flammable. When these flammable chemicals are mixed together over high heat, the risk of explosions and fires is high. One particular method of producing meth is thought to increase the chances of an explosion even further. This method is called the “shake and bake.” Making shake and bake meth involves using a 2-liter bottle filled with ingredients. The issue here comes from the high amount of pressure inside the bottle. The pressure that all the combined ingredients put on a simple 2-liter bottle is enormous. This intense pressure can result in explosions and fires that have been known to kill the maker, or at least severely injure the individual. Injuries such as lost limbs, scarring, burns, and even death are all common outcomes in meth lab-related explosions and fires.   At Vertava Health, we recognize the seriousness of meth misuse. Not only is the individual affected, but loved ones are hurt and worried about that individual’s future and health. We are here to provide assistance and comprehensive treatment. With Vertava Health, you can experience life-changing care. With a highly individualized approach to treatment, we are constantly rethinking the way we can best treat our patients. Our expert team of counselors, therapists, and clinical staff help us bring the highest level of care to our patients. Your best future is waiting. Call 844-470-0410 to begin your life-changing treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do meth labs explode/ blow up?

Meth labs are well known for exploding due to the volatility of the chemicals used in production. Many of the toxic chemicals used to make meth are already quite volatile and highly flammable. When these chemicals are mixed together, the result is a highly flammable and high pressure concoction. Meth is made over a stove and requires ingredients to be heated together. Flammable ingredients under high pressure and heat create a perfect formula for an explosion or a fire.

What do meth labs smell like?

Meth labs can smell like a variety of chemicals, but in general, the smell is usually described as ether or ammonia. Some claims compare the scent to cat litter or rotten eggs.

What state has the most meth labs?

The state with the most meth labs often changes year to year, but according to a 2019 publication by the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri ranks #1 in meth manufacturing in the United States. Other states in the conversation include Indiana, Tennessee, and Michigan.