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Social Services

Methamphetamine Information 3

 

What is a clandestine lab? 

A clandestine laboratory is simply defined as a place where preparation of illegal substances takes place.  These ‘labs’ are used to manufacture drugs, explosives and even biological or chemical weapons.  Most often, the labs are used to manufacture methamphetamine, a potent illegal stimulant drug.

 

What hazards exist in a clandestine lab? 

Since the activity in these labs is illegal, they are usually designed for ease of concealment of the activity and not for safety.  Often, the persons running the lab have little or no formal education in chemistry.  Numerous hazards exist in this environment including potential toxicities from the chemicals and gases produced, fires, explosions and chemical and thermal burns.  Children living in a lab are at heightened risk for physical, psychological and sexual abuse as well as possible exposure to methamphetamine or dangerous chemicals, booby traps, violence, weapons and pornography. 

 

What are the potential acute toxicities of these chemicals?
The answer to this question depends on the specific agent to which the individual was exposed, the route of exposure, the concentration of toxin and the duration of the exposure.  Most reported acute effects are either caustic / corrosive (affecting the skin, eyes and other mucous membranes) or respiratory in nature (e.g. wheezing, coughing).  Exposure to some solvents (e.g. n-hexane) can potentially cause peripheral neuropathy.  Other hydrocarbon solvents can cause CNS depression if inhaled in high concentrations.  The more concentrated and longer duration exposures are generally more serious, though brief exposures to some highly toxic agents (e.g. phosphine) may also be life-threatening. 

 

What is meant by the term “decontamination” in reference to persons removed from a clandestine laboratory, why is it necessary and when should decontamination be performed? 

“Decontamination” simply means thoroughly washing in order to remove any potentially harmful residue from persons removed from a hazardous site.  Decontamination is necessary to protect the individual from continued exposure as well as to prevent possible secondary contamination of other persons, equipment and facilities with which a contaminated individual might come in contact.  All persons removed from a clandestine lab should be properly decontaminated and dressed in clean clothing prior to any additional questioning or evaluation.  Decontamination is necessary regardless of the age of the person removed from the lab and whether or not the lab was in use at the time of removal. 

How should a person removed from a clandestine laboratory be decontaminated? 

An adult suspect removed from a lab must have all clothing removed and be thoroughly washed with soap and water, typically using portable warm water and then dried and dressed in clean clothing such as a jail jumpsuit.    The best recommendation for a child is to have a facility such as a tent or camper available at the scene in which the child can be given a warm shower and then dressed in age and gender appropriate clothing to minimize the psychological impact of the decontamination process.  Decisions regarding specifics of decontamination are most appropriately made by trained HAZMAT personnel.

When should someone removed from a clandestine laboratory be medically evaluated? 

All symptomatic persons should be evaluated by medical personnel immediately upon decontamination.  Asymptomatic adults may not require medical intervention.  It is recommended that all children removed from clandestine labs be evaluated by a qualified practitioner.

When should someone removed from a clandestine laboratory be medically evaluated? 

All symptomatic persons should be evaluated by medical personnel immediately upon decontamination.  Asymptomatic adults may not require additional medical intervention.  It is recommended that all children removed from clandestine labs be evaluated by a practitioner qualified to perform a complete pediatric evaluation within 24 hours of removal from the lab.

What signs and symptoms would a child likely display after being exposed to the environment in a clandestine laboratory?   

There is no single, well-defined expected presentation for a child with a history of potential chemical exposure in a methamphetamine laboratory. Recent exposure to methamphetamine itself will likely cause a picture of sympathetic excess (tachycardia, hypertension, hyperthermia, etc.).  A child with a more distant serious exposure to methamphetamine may present with CNS depression, neurological deficit or coma due to catecholamine depletion.  It is important, however, not to focus only on the toxicity of the finished drug product.  The two most common complaints in adults following exposure to a clandestine laboratory are irritant (eye, skin or mucus membrane) and respiratory difficulties.  Evidence of irritation such as caustic burns, redness, swelling, etc. may or may not be apparent.  Respiratory compromise, ranging from wheezing due to irritation to pneumonitis from aspiration of hydrocarbon solvents to respiratory arrest from inhalation of gases such as phosphine or cyanide, is possible in a clandestine laboratory. Finally, the child should be evaluated for signs or symptoms of abuse, neglect and nutritional deficit and, if present, further evaluation as deemed necessary should be completed. 

Methamphetamine FAQ - Child Exposure, page 4

Back to Methamphetamine Labs, page 2

Contact

Department of Social Services
80 Academy Street
Bryson City, NC 28713

Mailing Address
PO Box 610
Bryson City, NC 28713

Contact:

Sheila Sutton, Director
Phone 828-488-6921
Fax 828-488-8271
email

Office Hours
8am-5pm
Monday-Friday