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Methamphetamine Threats

     For the Hazardous Materials Responder, unseen hazards are the most dangerous. Clandestine Methamphetamine Drug Laboratories or “Labs” are chemistry labs operated by non-professionals that may be under the influence of the very drug they are creating. None of these operators or “cooks” follows OSHA safety guidelines for hazardous material safety. These “cooks” range from chemical engineers to junkies awaiting their next fix. Their chemical equipment is generally household kitchen items making these labs very unstable. This heightens the danger for hazardous materials responders. Without the ability of secure containers, the stakes are increased for chemical exposure and contamination. The most popular “clan lab” belongs to methamphetamine drug producers.

     Methamphetamine is a stimulant that is highly addictive. Generally, it is smoked or ingested by the user causing fits of paranoia. This is a dangerous combination and as it is an illegal operation, most “cooks” carry firearms to protect their “product”. Meth production is simple a can be highly profitable. The “chemical” supplies can be found in any home and purchased in grocery stores for nominal investments. According to “Quest Diagnostics” {a major industrial health care drug testing lab}, methamphetamine use has increased 64% in the workplace since 2004. This “speed” affords the worker to function while working excessive overtime, constantly increased by employers. It is estimated that the use of “Meth” is growing so quickly that it may surpass cocaine as the nation’s top illegal stimulant. A user can binge for hours on the drug, and then stay awake and alert for days at a time. Persons under the influence can have short violent tempers, hallucinations, and exhibit the “superman syndrome” having excessive energy with a false sense of confidence. All and or any of these are problematic, symptomatic behaviors.

     Methamphetamine lab seizures have risen from 8,000 in 1993 to 10,000 in 2003. As smaller labs provide quick fixes for their operators, bigger international operations provide the greatest challenge. Foreign production capitals such as Mexico produce huge amounts of methamphetamine for illegal transport to the United States. The issue will likely become one of smuggling taking precedence over small-scale production as this threat continues. In the meantime, your hazardous materials team may respond to the scene of a domestic lab in your community.

     Methamphetamine labs are commonly seen in rural areas rather than populated cities. This is primarily due to the strong vapors produced in methamphetamine production. In an urban area, curious neighbors attempting to identify noxious odors quickly discover these illegal “plants”. Therefore, rural hazardous materials responders have the greater challenge. If your response group encounters one of these sites, your pre-plan should coordinate with local police departments. Police Departments rule all criminal materials as “evidence” per their protocols. Haz Mat Teams regard these same materials as “waste”. Waste removal from the site becomes the focus. Haz Mat Teams do not secure “evidence”, just as Police Departments cannot keep “waste”. Preplanning a “methlab” response must answer this question before you are on site! This is a major problem and must be pre-planned before your response arrival at 0300!

     In totally unknown response conditions, some keys to inform your team regarding the type of hazardous material response that will be needed can be drawn from your initial assessment. To begin with, you will experience strong odors such as urine, cleaning solutions, ether, and acetone type smells. Heavy fuel smells may also be present. Reports from neighbors that the occupant makes all purchases using cash could be a clue. Landlords may be able to confirm this type of activity. Traffic to the home at all hours, especially increasing at night is common. Neighbors may be able to confirm excessive trash from the home involving chemical containers. Upon entry, you may see an excess of clear clean glass containers located throughout the residence. If you observe any of these habits, further investigation is needed. If the materials are inside a structure {a confined area}, respiratory protection and turn out gear at a minimum should be donned.

     One of the greatest chemical hazards involving “Meth” labs to hazardous materials responders is Anhydrous Ammonia. Mitigation of this material will be covered in next weeks post, due to its extreme handling complexities.

                                    Haz Mat Mike



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