• Document: Guidelines for Cleaning up Former Methamphetamine Labs
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Guidelines for Cleaning up Former Methamphetamine Labs Methamphetamine (meth) drug labs are not a new hazard to Iowa. In 2003, federal, state and local authorities seized more than 1,100 Iowa labs, and the number of labs seized increases each year. These labs are discovered in houses, apartments, motel rooms, motor vehicles, and even an occasional combine. Since meth labs are an emerging problem, there is currently no official federal guidance or regulations on how to clean up a former meth lab. The Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Toxicology, has created these basic guidelines to assist public health officials, property owners and the general public in cleaning up former meth lab properties. How can you find out if a property has been used to make meth? In Iowa there is no tracking method or general listing for homes that were used as meth labs. You should call your local law enforcement agency to inquire if the property has ever been used for the manufacturing of meth. If a meth lab did exist, the hazardous material contractor should have information on what chemicals were present on the property. Additional information may be available from your county health department, fire department, or the owner of the property. Why the concern about cleaning up illegal meth labs? After the bulk of any lab-related debris, such as chemicals and containers have been removed, it is possible that a small amount of contamination may accidentally be left on surfaces and in absorbent materials (carpets, furniture), sinks, drains and ventilation systems. Though found in small amounts, meth lab contaminants may pose health threats to persons exposed to them. What chemicals is meth made from? Meth is made from common, easily available materials, using one of several basic chemical processes. There are hundreds of chemical products and substances that are used interchangeably to produce meth. Poor handling and disposal of these chemicals can create hazards. Common chemicals used to manufacture meth include, Freon, ether (starting fluid), toluene (paint thinner), pseudoephedrine (cold medicine), sulfuric acid (drain cleaner), anhydrous ammonia, iodine, muriatic acid, and lithium (camera batteries). Other hazardous chemicals can be formed when ingredients are heated during the “cooking” process. As a result of the “cooking” process, these chemicals or their fumes may contaminate a property. Household materials such as carpeting, wallboard, ceiling tile and fabric may absorb spilled chemicals. Furniture or draperies may also become contaminated. If chemicals are dumped in a septic system or on the ground, soil or groundwater may become contaminated. What are possible health effects from exposure to meth lab chemicals? Because of the chemicals present during meth's cooking process, there is a high risk for acute exposure that can be harmful. Short-term exposure to high concentrations of chemicals that may exist can cause adverse health problems such as respiratory (breathing) problems, skin and eye irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness. For this reason, meth “cookers,” their families and first responders are at highest risk of severe health effects including lung damage and chemical burns. After a bust and seizure of a meth lab, there is often only a low exposure risk to chemical residues, but this contamination needs to be cleaned up. There is little known about the health effects from chronic (long-term) exposure to contaminants left behind after a meth lab is dismantled. IDPH advises property owners to exercise caution and use the safest possible methods for cleaning a former meth lab property and any possible remaining contamination. How can the property be cleaned up? Since illegal drug labs are an emerging problem, there is currently no official guidance or regulations on how to clean up former meth lab properties. There are no clean up standards inside a building or home for the many chemicals associated with meth labs. IDPH is working to find an answer that will protect the public and be practical for property owners. Clean up level advice has ranged from doing nothing to complete demolition. Until cleanup standards can be determined, IDPH advises owners to do their best to thoroughly clean up these properties. IDPH believes that the safest way to clean up a former meth lab is to hire an environmental company trained in hazardous substance removal and clean up. Owners who decide to clean properties on their own should be aware that household building materials and furniture may have absorbed contaminants and may give off fumes. Use caution and wear clothing to protect your skin, such as gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection during cleaning. General guidelines for cleaning former meth labs: Air out the property Hazardous material contractors are generally called in to remove lab waste and any bulk chemicals after a lab has been seized by law enforcement. During this removal, efforts are made to air out the property for the s

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