Managing the risk of exposure to clandestine methamphetamine laboratories (clan labs)
This information sheet has been prepared by members of the Auckland Regional Methamphetamine Working Group and is intended to provide employers with a resource to assist them to develop policies and procedures in order to protect employees against workplace exposure to methamphetamine contaminants, by-products or residuals while conducting property visits.
Numerous occupations involve property visits where a clan lab might be located please see Appendix 2. Mobile and partial clan labs have also been found in vehicles, so occupations that involve searching, inspecting and removal of vehicles may be at risk.
This sheet may also be used to inform employees of hazards associated with clan labs and will enable them to be alerted by their own observation to potential risk situations and suggests reasonable steps to ensure their own safety.
This information sheet provides the following information:
- Risks associated with methamphetamine production.
- Health effects that can arise from exposure to meth clan lab chemicals, by-products or residuals.
- How to identify a meth clan lab, from indicators outside or inside a property.
- Recommended procedures should a meth clan lab be discovered or suspected.
This information sheet is not intended to provide specific solutions to specific issues but to provide generic information that should be tailored by the individual to risk situations.
You can also download here a copy of the fact sheet provided by WorkSafe NZ
Risks associated with methamphetamine (P) production
New Zealand law classifies methamphetamine as a Class A controlled drug — a drug that poses a very high risk of harm — under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.
Meth or “P” is highly addictive and abuse can lead to memory loss, aggressive behaviour, violence, psychotic and paranoid behaviour, and potential cardiac and neurological damage.
Unintentional exposure to methamphetamine and the by-products of its manufacture can occur where people are living in, or frequently visit, properties formerly housing a clan lab. Contaminants absorbed by the structure and furnishings can be released for years afterwards.
The manufacturing process creates significant hazards. The production of meth requires the use of hazardous chemicals, which commonly include acetone, lead, and mercury. The chemicals used are toxic to human health, corrosive (acids), explosive, flammable (solvents) and eco-toxic to the environment.
The risk of a clan lab fire or explosion is high. Manufacturers of meth often have limited knowledge of the chemical hazards and little concern for public safety or the environment.
Significant health and environmental risks are posed by acidic and potentially flammable fumes and waste chemical by-products produced during the ‘cooking’ process.
The clandestine nature of the cooking process can result in potentially hazardous environmental contamination. Manufacture often takes place in confined and poorly ventilated spaces, with the illegal dumping of chemical wastes to land and waterways, or down kitchen sinks, toilets and into storm water drains.
Recognising health effects
Both short and long-term health effects can arise from exposure to meth clan lab chemicals, by-products or residuals. These effects are dependent on the concentration, quantity, the route and duration of exposure. Chemicals may enter the body by being inhaled, consumed, injected or absorbed through the skin.
Symptoms of short-term (acute) exposure commonly include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pains
- lack of co-ordination
- chemical irritation or burns to skin, eyes, nose and mouth (burns may result from acids and bases used in the manufacture of P)
Less severe exposures can occur where people are living in, or have visited, homes formerly housing a clan-P lab. Off-gassing of contaminants absorbed by the structure and furnishings can occur for years. Resulting symptoms include:
- fatigue or lethargy
- personality change
Chronic effects of volatile organic compounds can include acute symptoms as well as:
- liver and kidney damage
- neurological problems
- increased risk of cancer
Metals and salts are used in the manufacturing process – lead and mercury are particularly hazardous and can have serious multi-organ effects including neurological impairment.
Should an employee display any or all of these symptoms medical assistance should be sought from their medical practitioner. Severe acute symptoms may require immediate transfer of the employee to hospital.