Methamphetamine Summary

Expected Concentrations

Surface contamination throughout the buildings used to manufacture methamphetamine is almost universal. Even labs that have been shut down several months prior to testing by National Jewish Medical and Research Personnel had high contamination levels of methamphetamine present on many surfaces within the building. Samples as high as 16,000 µg/100 cm2 were found in the actual clandestine laboratories, with most samples over 25 µg/100 cm2. National Jewish personnel detected methamphetamine residues on horizontal and vertical surfaces in most of the suspected methamphetamine laboratories tested, suggesting it was likely released as an aerosol during the production process. Sampling efforts confirmed that methamphetamine is released during the extraction phase of methamphetamine production and is likely associated with the production of the hydrogen chloride mist. The amount of methamphetamine released appears to be higher in the phosphorous based "cooks", although an interference was noted by the laboratory in the anhydrous ammonia "cook". We believe that it is this release of methamphetamine that results in the majority of contamination that is found on surfaces within clandestine laboratories. In the "cook" area, the airborne levels of methamphetamine ranged from a low of 79 ug/m3 to a high of 5500 ug/m3. Even in some of the more distant sampling locations concentrations exceeding 4000 µg/m3 were detected.

Manufacturing Method

Manufacturing Area

Remote Area

Red Phos. #2

5500 ug/m3

4200 ug/m3

Red Phos. #3

520 ug/m3

99 ug/m3

Red Phos. #4

760 ug/m3

510 ug/m3

Anhydrous #1*

>680 ug/m3

>12 ug/m3

Anhydrous #2*

>79 ug/m3

>2.6 ug/m3

Anhydrous #3*

>170 ug/m3

>158 ug/m3

Hypophos. #1

3800 ug/m3

4000 ug/m3

Hypophos. #2

680 ug/m3

NA

Mean

1524 ug/m3 (2252 ug/m3)

1283 ug/m3 (2202 ug/m3)

Median

680 ug/m3 (760 ug/m3)

158 ug/m3 (2255 ug/m3)

* - Interference noted by analytical laboratory. NA—Not Available
( )—Calculation of mean and median results excluding the values for cooks using the anhydrous ammonia method of manufacture.

Currently, various state re-occupancy levels for a residence that has been used as a clandestine laboratory range from 0.1 ug/100 cm2 to 0.5 mg /100 cm2.(27) These concentrations have not been developed on human health exposure studies, rather, at the feasible limits of detection since no "safe" threshold level of exposures has yet been established.

Methamphetamine aerosols can contaminate surfaces throughout a building when the drug is made and when it is used (smoked). It is difficult to determine dermal exposures and actual biological doses for individuals working or living within that atmosphere. It is therefore logical to assume that hand contamination can result not only in ingestion exposure, (especially in the case of children) but it may also contribute to systemic exposures by percutaenous exposures of both children and adults.

General Health Effects for Children

Although the effects of methamphetamine are well known on individuals using the drug, the effects of low level exposures to emergency personnel or other associated individuals are not as well studied. Acute effects exhibited by users include:  nervousness, hyper-excitability, irritability, assaultiveness, compulsive or repetitive behavior, euphoria, insomnia, tremor headache, fatigue, and Tourette's syndrome. In some cases exposure may cause headache, dizziness, rash, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and other systemic concerns. Methamphetamine may also be irritating to the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and the upper respiratory tract. Extremely high doses may result in paranoia, depression psychotic episodes, cerebral infarctions and death. (1)

Health Risks to Children

The chemical contamination present within a building that has been used as a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory has special importance for children of a family associated with that structure. A report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suggests that an infant living in a structure that has been contaminated with the levels of methamphetamine that we have documented may experience serious health effects. The report suggests that infants in these environments may have internal methamphetamine doses ranging from 0.41 to 13.3 mg/kg/day which approach and may exceed the dose found in adults abusing the drug. Considering that some developmental and neurological endpoints to infants may exist at levels less than 0.01 mg/kg/day, these doses appear to be very important. Long-term exposure to stimulants may reduce growth. Due to the smaller body size and a more rapid respiratory rate, children may also experience symptoms at a much lower dose than adults. Due to a maturing nervous system, exposures to children may also result in long-term adult-like symptoms and cognitive capabilities may be reduced.

Fetal Health Effects

It is known that methamphetamine may cause some teratogenic effects and may change behavior in exposed infants. Prenatal exposure to methamphetamine has been shown to cause an increase in pre-term labor, placental abruption, fetal distress, and postpartum hemorrhage.(25) Infants exposed to methamphetamine are generally smaller, have feeding difficulties, and are described as "very slow". Infants borne to mothers that have used methamphetamine during pregnancy may have abnormal sleep patterns, poor feeding, tremors, and hypertionia. In some reports, subtle neurological abnormalities have also been found.

  • Salocks, C. and Kaley, K.B. Technical Support Document:  Toxicity Clandestine Labs: Methamphetamine. Vol 1. , Number 8. Methamphetamine. Cal/EPA. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Sacramento, CA . 2003. 10 pp.

Additional Information:

Technical Support Document: Toxicology Clandestine Drug Labs: Methamphetamine (pdf)
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

Desoxyn Drug Facts
(pdf)
Abbott Laboratories

Review of Contaminant Levels: Guidelines fo Clandestine Drug Lab Cleanup (2000) (pdf)
Washington State