Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, man-made drug that stimulates the pleasure section of the brain. Meth has historically been used as a stimulant throughout several decades, but in more recent years, use has surged as purity increases and the extreme high intensifies. Because meth can be made from common household items, small laboratories can be set up in a variety of locations to make, or “cook”, the drug; and because meth is relatively inexpensive and easy to produce, residential meth labs are a serious problem.
Once a property has been contaminated by meth production or usage, it remains that way until properly decontaminated. Methamphetamine is a drug that can be taken in a multitude of ways. The drug can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested with all methods resulting in a significant amount of the drug being introduced into the body. In areas of high surface concentration, the drug can actually be absorbed through intact skin. The act of smoking methamphetamine does not actually consist of setting the drug on fire, but rather consists of heating the drug above the vapor point so that the vapor can be inhaled. The vapor that is not inhaled into the lungs will normally be released into the room and cause general methamphetamine contamination, even though an actual “meth lab” did not exist. The amount of methamphetamine contamination generated will depend upon the amount “smoked” and the conditions at the time of “smoking”.
Contamination levels depend on the activity on the property, whether it is through production and/or use. Many flammable and toxic gases, as well as significant amounts of meth residue, can result from the production of meth. Labs leave harmful, hazardous chemical residues on building structures. For every pound of meth produced in a lab, 5-6 pounds of toxic waste is left behind. Even just using meth can leave high levels of meth residues on all surfaces. Properties can be contaminated from both the chemicals used in meth production and/or residue left by using meth.
Proper decontamination is suggested to remediate properties that have been contaminated. State standards for the decontamination process have been established in an effort to protect public health. Contact your local health department for county specific decontamination procedures if your property tests positive for meth. While the decontamination standards are the same statewide, county procedures may differ.
Meth Health Concerns:
Methamphetamine (meth) works on the centers of the brain that increase the release of dopamine, which is a chemical (neurotransmitter) that normally helps to regulate and elevate mood. The meth molecule damages the system that allows the brain cells to transfer messages and the ability to repair this system is limited. Because of the way meth interacts with the body, even small amounts of meth can cause any variety of the following:
Increased wakefulness Increased physical activity
Decreased appetite Increased respiration
Rapid heart rate Irregular heart beat
Increased blood pressure Increased body temperature
Cardiovascular collapse Altered judgment and inhibition
There is currently no research that determines specific health effects at various levels of surface meth contamination exposure. There is currently no scientific research showing long term health effects of surface methamphetamine exposure. The only research available shows the long term effects of actually using meth. Consistently using meth over time changes how the brain can function because the brain cells become damaged. The emotion and memory regions of the brain are most affected by meth. Exposure to meth during pregnancy may include increased maternal blood pressure, low birth weight, and prematurity. There has not been a significant association with major birth defects and methamphetamine use during pregnancy.
Children can be exposed in the environment through inhalation and absorption through skin. More research is needed on effects of low dose, long term exposure to methamphetamine. Recent research coming out of California and Colorado confirm that no adverse health effects will result if a home is properly decontaminated to the level required by the State.
What if Meth Testing Results are Positive?
It is recommended to test for meth before all property transactions especially if the following visual evidence is present: a large amount of cold tablets; jars with clear liquid with white or red colored solid on the bottom; large amounts of batteries; propane tanks with fittings that have turned blue; strong smell of urine or other chemicals; yellow discoloration or staining on walls, floors, drains, sinks, showers; unusual burns marks, etc. If home tests positive for meth, you should contact your local health department to discuss next steps in the process.
If property was a lab, it will be placed on contaminated property list, and must follow the decontamination procedures outlined in the State Rule 392-600. If meth is produced in the home, then generally meth sample test results are very high. Additionally, meth labs introduce many hazardous chemicals into the environment. Homes with only meth use often test at lower, but still significant levels of meth present. Often it is difficult to distinguish between a lab and a use situation because meth is now being produced in ways where typical visual signs do not occur.
Properties can become contaminated from any kind of meth activity including production, smoking or other methods of use, cutting, selling, etc. A meth lab, or clandestine drug lab, is where the drug is being actively produced. Under the current State Rule 392-600, when a property has been identified as a lab and has had police activity, decontamination is required. The current standard for decontamination is 1.0 μg/100cm² (micrograms per 100 centimeters squared).
Rule 392-600 specifies pre-assessment, sampling, work plan, decontamination standards, and final reporting. It also explains:
- “Porous” versus “non porous” material, and what material must be discarded.
- Items that must be included in a work plan.
- Decontamination procedures.
- How to do sampling, including material to use, how many times to wipe, how many samples are required, and (in some cases) where to sample.
- Confirmation sampling — process to make sure your property is decontaminated.
- Final Reports and how to get the property off the health department’s list of contaminated properties.
Utah currently uses 0.1 μg/100cm² as the decontamination standard. In 2005, environmental health scientists from around the State gathered, analyzed, and compared the most current research available regarding meth contamination. These findings were compared to other state’s standards taking note of information and research that was not available (such as the health effects of surface meth contamination at various levels). The 0.1 μg/100cm² level was chosen as the standard at that time to provide as much protection of the public’s health as possible, given the unknown variables.
Currently, properties that are known labs reported by the police must be placed on a Contaminated Property List until they have been decontaminated. Once the property has been decontaminated, it is removed from the list. There are no laws currently in place requiring disclosure about meth contamination once it has been properly decontaminated and removed from the Contaminated Property List. Certified Decontamination Specialists have passed a test and been certified by the Department of Environmental Quality to remediate properties contaminated with meth should be contacted for proper decontamination procedures.
Remediation costs vary depending on the size of the home, the extent of the contamination, and the company decontaminating your home. The Department recommends calling a number of different decontamination specialists and obtaining several different bids before beginning the process. The length of the decontamination process varies from several weeks to several months. The time needed is dependent on the size of the home, extent of the contamination, and the company performing the decontamination. When calling decontamination specialists, be sure to ask about their estimated time of completion.
As long as protocols are followed, and the final sampling falls below the decontamination standard (0.1 μg/100cm²), the owner of record can remediate their own property. Rule 392-600-5 describes the requirements for remediating your property. If you are the owner of record and choose to remediate your property, you must comply with all federal, state, municipal, and local laws, rules, ordinances, and regulations in the decontamination process.
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