Lithium

Expected Concentrations:

Lithium metal is the most commonly used reactive metal in the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine using the anhydrous ammonia method of production. It can commonly be obtained from photographic batteries where it is present as a foil inside the batteries. The foil can be removed from the batteries and stored in a solvent until use. It dissolves in the anhydrous ammonia to form a bluish solution. Although the metal may react slowly to produce hydrogen in the presence of water, it does not react violently and the production of hydrogen is usually slow in comparison to sodium metal. Lithium is a solid at room temperature and has not been found in an airborne state during anhydrous ammonia cooks. Since it does not normally become airborne there are no current OSHA or NIOSH exposure levels for Lithium.

General Health Effects:

Since lithium does not become airborne, the primary route of entry into the body is through accidental ingestion by children. Information regarding this exposure is lacking although it may be similar to exposure to lithium salts which may effect the digestive tract, the central nervous system and the kidneys. Effects may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Tremors, loss of coordination, mental confusion, agitation, and seizures may also occur at high doses. It is unlikely that these effects will be noticed with small exposures to these chemicals and no reports of accidental exposure in methamphetamine labs have been reported at this time.

Health Risks to Children:

Lithium chloride has been linked to birth defects in laboratory animals but the results have been contradictory at this time.

Fetal Health Effects:

See above.

References:

  1. Salocks, C. and Kaley, K. 2003. Technical Support Document: Toxicology, Clandestine Drug Labs: Methamphetamine. Volume 1, Number 4 Lithium. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Department of Toxic Substances Control. Sacramento, CA. 10 pp.

Supporting Documents:

Technical Support Document: Toxicology
Clandestine Drug Labs: Lithium
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

Fact Sheet: Lithium
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment