The Dangers of Meth Manufacturing: “Cookin’ With The Devil”

The dangers of manufacturing methamphetamine are vast and serious. Laboratories that produce meth vary dramatically in size and output. Large laboratories, known as super labs, create 10 pounds or more of the drug per construction cycle. Much smaller laboratories--sometimes called box labs--produce as little as an ounce or less of the drug and are tiny enough to fit in a box or backpack.

Methamphetamine laboratories are progressively rampant throughout the United States. In 2002 more than 7,500 laboratories were apprehended in 44 states, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) El Paso Intelligence Center National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System. While methamphetamine production remains most commonplace in the western portion of the United States - particularly California - seizures of methamphetamine laboratories in the west central part of the country have become more routine.

Methamphetamine laboratories may be located almost everywhere. Laboratories have been discovered in isolated rural areas as well as in residential, commercial, and industrial areas. Law enforcement officers have apprehended laboratories at private residences, commercial properties, hotels and motels, and outdoor locations. Mobile laboratories have been uncovered in automobiles, boats, and luggage.

Some of the signs of a meth lab can include: unusual odors of ammonia, acetone or other chemicals; excessive amounts of garbage – especially chemical containers. Often times the windows of these facilities (if there are any) are either covered with aluminum or have shades permanently drawn. Extensive security precautions such as cameras, no trespassing signs, security dog warnings, etc. are commonplace.

The actual physical dangers are overwhelmingly hazardous. The chemicals used to produce meth are highly explosive and may ignite or explode if mixed or stockpiled inadequately. Fire and explosion present dangers not only to the individuals creating the drug but also to anyone in the immediate area, including children, neighbors, and anyone innocently passing by.

Even when fire or explosion does not happen, methamphetamine production is treacherous. Simply being exposed to the toxic chemicals used to create the drug poses a array of health dangers, including intoxication, dizziness, nausea, disorientation, lack of coordination, pulmonary edema, severe respiratory problems, severe chemical burns, and injury to internal organs.

Inhaling chemical vapors and gases ensuing from methamphetamine production produces shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain. Introduction to these vapors and gases may also cause intoxication, dizziness, nausea, disorientation, and lack of coordination, pulmonary edema, chemical pneumonitis, and other severe respiratory complications when absorbed into the body through the lungs. Chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine may produce critical burns if they come into contact with the skin.

Noxious chemicals can be absorbed either by ingesting contaminated food or beverages or by unintentionally consuming the chemicals directly. Young children at laboratory locations are at specific risk of ingesting chemicals. Intake of toxic chemicals--or methamphetamine itself--can result in possibly fatal poisoning, internal chemical burns, and injury to organ function, and damage to neurological and immunologic performance.

Lastly, methamphetamine production threatens the environment. The typical methamphetamine laboratory manufactures 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine created. Operatives often dispose of this waste incompetently, often by abandoning it near the laboratory. This can cause contamination of the soil and nearby water supplies.

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