More Regulations Needed To Govern Furtive Meth Labs

Generally, when you find products like acetone, anhydrous ammonia, toluene and sulfuric acid in any science laboratory, they are most likely to be stored cautiously and marked with dangerous material warnings. However, these are the chemicals that are made use of to make crystal meth, and, strangely enough, drug dealers seldom give much importance to these warning signs.

In fact, one may often find surreptitious drug laboratories almost everywhere ranging from the industrial storehouses to even the back of a car! The ease with which these ingredients may be acquired coupled with a 95 per cent addiction rate, especially for those using these drugs for the first time, make the production of crystal meth a money-spinning business for any innovative drug dealer.

Irrespective of the name you call this drug by - crystal or crank, or ice, methamphetamine is extremely wrecking for any one who uses it. In addition, formulating crystal meth has the potential to transform any house, outhouse or vehicle into an unsafe wasteland.

According to a covert drug laboratory trainer and a full-time firefighter in Mississauga, Ontario, the most appropriate way to use remedial methods for a laboratory making crystal meth is using a bulldozer. He further said that when the police transport the materials out of such clandestine drug labs, it is nothing but toxic waste. Since this is a highly dangerous material, it needs to be treated in such a manner.

Meth labs are potentially lethal

Crystal meth is prepared by 'cooking' pseudoephedrine (present in cold medications) along with a range of household chemicals, for instance, antifreeze and paint thinner. Some of them are very unstable and may catch fire or explore when they are not blended or stored appropriately.

The Drug Branch Director at the RCMP Supt. Richard Sauve says that these types of drugs are made in temporary and improvised laboratories that are out of sight in our vicinity and pose a grave menace to the safety of the public as well as the emergency first responders, for instance, the police, firefighters and ambulance workers. He added that this is a grave as drug manufacturers, who are not properly trained chemists; do not have any concern for the threats associated with the noxious chemicals. Producing such drugs in such improvised laboratories may result in catastrophic consequences like explosion, fire and even environmental pollution, Sauve added.

In 2006, fellow citizens of a townhouse in Mississauga in Ontario witnessed such dangers personally when a meth lab exploded destroying the residence and resulted in the evacuation of as many as 80 homes in the neighborhood. The accident could have been even worse. In fact, in 2002, while raiding a 200 sq. meter super laboratory located in Edmonton, officials detected 60 liters of highly combustible ether that was more than sufficient to ravage six blocks of the city.

Exposures to toxic chemicals like hydrogen chloride, phosphine gas or benzene (an identified carcinogen - a substance having the potential to produce cancer) that are given off during the process involved in making crystal meth even for a short while is sufficient to result in nausea, dizziness, chemical burn and even breathing difficulties. As these chemicals are dispersed as fog, smoke or gas (aerosolized) during the cooking procedure or poured into the drain for discarding, it may build up hazardous toxins in countertops; wood trim; pipes; dry wall; and also in the building's heating as well as the ventilation systems.

Chances are that you will not become sick immediately, but the constant exposure to such toxins may create problems and eventually make you ill.

Supt. Richard Sauve says that drug laboratories always cast off dangerous residual contamination that leads to the grave threat to public health and wellbeing. In most cases, such drug labs leave a property that is hazardous for habitation by people.

Mushrooming of meth labs

In effect, the toxic pollution spreads far beyond the walls of the premises where such clandestine meth labs are housed. The danger to our health and environment can be understood better when it is precisely mentioned that each pound of methamphetamine produced generates anything between five to seven pounds of hazardous waste that contains solvents as well as corrosive substances.

Dave Clarke says that what is worse that these drug dealers are not calling up a hazardous waste contractor to remove the toxic wastes. On the contrary, they simply dump these toxic materials in beside the road, in the streams or pour it down the drains with least concern regarding the damage it might cause to mankind and the environment.

While the RCMP still considers marijuana to be the most extensively used drug throughout Canada, the menace of crystal meth too is deteriorating by the day. Although it is difficult to come across statistics in this regard, it was found that in 2006, the precise number of super meth labs that produce over 10 pounds of the drug during each production cycle went up noticeably during the period of one year. While British Columbia has the largest concentration of meth labs in Canada, Ontario is close behind.

Inadequate laws to govern meth lab clean-ups

It may be noted that the drugs are not the only problem, as there is plenty of problems regarding regulation of such meth labs also. In effect, when the police bring down a crystal meth lab, they simply take away all evidence related to the manufacture of the drug, but leave the job of cleaning up of the laboratory to the owner of the property. Moreover, even if you clean a house accommodating a crystal meth lab thoroughly and paint it afresh, the hazardous chemical remains may still be there for several years.

Interestingly enough, at present there is no federal or provincial rules that would help to administer the manner in which laboratories making synthetic drugs ought to be remediated. Even in a state like Ontario, where the local municipality requires issuance of a permit prior to the re-occupation of an erstwhile meth lab (as per the existing building and fire regulations), there are no laws whatsoever regarding who ought to ensure a clean-up and no fixed satisfactory levels of exposure by the residual toxic wastes.

Clarke is of the view that everyone concerned is busy passing the 'hot potato' since no one desires to be on the hook. He further said no one desires to take up responsibility because in case they want someone back in and it may not be secure.

Meanwhile, Canadian Real Estate Association spokesman Bob Linney said that even in the event of a property being listed for sale, the disclosure rules for realtors are not the same throughout the country and it varies from one province to another. He further said that rules are established separately in each province and are dissimilar in every province. This is a genuine dilemma, Linney added.

In a number of provinces realtors as well as real estate owners are required to divulge the patent as well as the latent defects. In other words, they need to disclose everything that is understandable and also which are not. On the other hand, in some provinces the realtors and property owners are needed to disclose nothing at all and in some others, they have to divulge any one of the two - patent and latent flaws.

In addition, national registries of meth labs that have already been raided do not exist. However, a number of police departments are now collecting their individual lists in this regard.

How to detect a former meth lab

Since there are no national registries regarding the raided meth labs, it is indeed a difficult task to find out where the erstwhile laboratories were located. However, the good news is that there are a few somewhat noticeable signs which help use to indentify any property that has been utilized as a meth lab. It is important to mention here that even if you follow these signs and detect an illegal drug laboratory in your locality, never go ahead and try to probe the matter all by yourself. It is advisable that you get in touch with the local police with whatever information you may have.

The signs that will help you to identify a place which was used as a meth lab are as follows:

  • Any such area or building will have dead vegetation or burn pits in the backyard.
  • There may be disgusting smells of urine or odours of other chemical substances, for instance, acetone.
  • You may also find deep red marks of chemicals on the drywalls or the ceiling tiles.
  • The driveways and concrete as well sinks, toilets and bathtubs may have chemical spills or burn blemishes.
  • The area may also have disproportionate waste materials, particularly bottles of cold medicine, Drano, ammonia and paint thinners as well as batteries.
  • You may also find indications of the windows being blackened or covered once.
  • There may also be propane tanks fittings which may have turned either green or blue.
  • The area may also have used glass cookware or frying pans with some powdery residue.

In case you get a house that shows any or several of the signs mentioned above and the price of the house appears to be incredibly low, this is ample indication of the fact that this house may have once been used as a meth lab.

Before concluding this discussion, it is important to know Clarke's views on the subject. He says that if you have been in the profession of handling hazardous materials or an erstwhile police official and you discover a property that has been listed for sale and earlier some one was producing crystal meth in that house, simply pass on the information to the pertinent authorities. He adds that except for the case where you will be stripping out the whole lot in the house, including the carpet, drywall and electrical fittings, the house is not worth the health hazards associated with it.

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