Services » Hygiene Consulting » Methamphetamine & Cladestine Laboratory Testing and Hygiene Consulting

The use and illegal manu
facture of illicit drugs is a major issue globally. The main illicit drugs that are manufactured are amphetamine type stimulants (ATS), principally methamphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). The use and manufacture/synthesis of these drugs from precursor chemicals can lead to potentially harmful contamination of buildings, fixtures and fittings requiring specialized remediation or in some cases, demolition. Properties untreated properly can lead to exposure to occupants with a wide range of acute and chronic sicknesses.

 When Methamphetamine and similar drugs are used, they are often smoked, injected intravenously or snorted. When smoked, the smoke has a tendency to rise under convection and condense onto surfaces within the dwelling, that is, walls, ceilings, bench tops, windows and tiles. During the manufacturing process, the “cooking” process also involves heat and elevated evaporation of methamphetamine and other precursor chemicals. The deposition sites for the residue is generally greatest at high level, that is, in the corners of rooms or high on the walls near the apex of the ceiling. Vapours tend to be attracted to windows, electrical sockets and lights as well. This is where the highest concentration of residue is generally found and therefore where most swab samples are taken. If a dwelling has been used for manufacturing Methamphetamines, it is not uncommon to see a contamination gradient through the dwelling with the highest concentrations being at the site of manufacture or “cooking” and concentration levels becoming lower as the distance from the “cooking” site increases. This is true with both use and manufacturing with manufacturing residue producing much higher levels and generally associated with precursor residues such as pseudoephedrine, amphetamine and ephedrine. These precursor residues are not seen as much where use or “smoking” of the drug only has occurred.

 Contamination from the use or manufacture of methamphetamines can be as a solid, liquid or vapour. Solids, by virtue, do not tend to migrate as easily as liquids and vapours. Liquid and vaporous contamination can affect both the internal and external environments and has the ability to effect building materials and soil. Most affected are those that are porous or untreated (i.e: unpainted) that are able to adsorb moisture such as plaster board, wood products, concrete, porous tiles, grout, carpet, floor boards, particle board and textiles. Less affected by contamination and more easily remediated are non-porous or sealed materials like glass, some laminates and non-porous tiles.

Asides from the well documented health risks of the use of amphetamine type stimulants (ATS), there are potentially harmful environmental health and safety hazards from exposure to residues of chemicals. This is particular concern in dwellings or buildings that have had or suspected to have been used in the manufacturing of ATS. Methamphetamine is a particularly stable chemical that is not broken down easily under normal environmental conditions and can remain in materials for many years. The physiochemical nature of materials is that absorption into materials tends to occur rapidly especially under convection with desorption from materials occurring at a much slower rate. Therefore, any ATS or precursor residue that may have absorbed into a material will desorb or “off gas” at a much slower rate, sometimes taking years. Painting over or wall papering contaminated surfaces will not cover up or stop the desorption process as both of these are still porous and in most cases, will prolong desorption and make the remediation process more difficult and expensive. The Australian Government's “Clandestine Drug Laboratory Remediation Guidelines”(2011) outline the test methodology and safe or post-remediation residue levels below 0.5 ug/100cm2 for occupancy of dwellings.

 In many cases, when a clandestine laboratory is discovered by Police Services, the dwelling is forensically examined and then once Police investigations are complete, the property will be reported to the local council or shire who is then responsible for notifying the owner/s (who are usually aware by this time) to have the property tested and remediated correctly. Unfortunately, far too many times this is not done properly or at all and properties are placed back on the market still contaminated. Some properties owners do the right thing and have these remediated by professional companies however, the unfortunate truth is that most go on the market untreated as remediation costs landlords time and money in lost rental income. Tenants then move in unaware that they are being exposed to high levels of Methamphetamine and related chemical exposure. There is little follow up and no mandatory reporting in Australia unless asked. The resulting issue is children, adults and in particular those at high risk are exposed unknowingly to Methamphetamine residue and subsequent health issues such as examples in Victoria we have seen in the media of late.