Last Wednesday I tuned in for the first time to watch an episode of ‘Doctor Doctor,’ an Australian television programme on the Nine Network. The drama programme follows the story of a fictional character, Hugh Knight, who in this episode attempted to prove his innocence after failing a drug test. He attempted to investigate whether his living environment was be the reason behind the results. Eventually Hugh ended up in a property that was once used in the clandestine (‘clan’) manufacture of methamphetamine.
Considering that one of our service offerings of Envirolab Group, is the scientific testing of methamphetamine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, amphetamine and other drug residue testing, it was significant for me to see this once not so well known, and commonly termed, ‘emerging contaminant’ now making its way into storylines.
Contamination Issues with Methamphetamine Laboratories
Reports from the media and relevant agencies suggest that clan drug laboratories is an issue in Australia. Whilst there are efforts by police and chemists, including my highly esteemed team at Envirolab, to identify the presence of meth and other illicit contaminants, a range of chemical residues may remain present in many undiscovered locations, which may continue to operate until eventually abandoned.
For residential homes, apartments, business premises as well as sheds that remain undetected as meth labs, chemical residue can seep into the furnishings, walls, carpets and ceilings. This may leave new tenants, property owners or potential property buyers unaware and vulnerable to serious health risks.
Some countries, including New Zealand have produced guidelines for the investigation and management of these contaminants. Of significance, statutory obligations require landlords, as well as property managers and agents to correct chemical hazards on their property under section 35 of the Building Act 2004and the Health Act 1956. If a property is found to have been contaminated, councils must record this on the LIM (Land Information Memorandum) report. Real estate agents are also required to disclose knowledge. These form part of the clients and service requests of LABTEC, our scientific testing lab based in Auckland.
In our Envirolab Services laboratories in Australia, requests for drug residue testing have continued to increase with what may be more awareness about the potential harm of clan labs.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission reported recently in July 2017 that methamphetamine remains the highest consumed illicit drug tested across all regions in Australia. The highest methamphetamine levels have been found at Western Australian and South Australian sites, as well as some regional sites in Queensland. However, the same report and previous 2011 report identified variations within the different Australian jurisdictions.
Health Issues Associated with Exposure to Methamphetamine Laboratories
The Government of Australia Department of Health lists clan lab operators or “cooks” as being at risk of being exposed to the inhalation of toxic and corrosive gases. Many cooks do not follow basic laboratory precautions, such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). Their limited knowledge of mixing chemicals may also result in fires and explosions.
Property Occupants during or after clan lab operations have ceased are also at risk of residual contamination. Reports have identified children as being at a higher risk of exposure than adults due to the behavioural characteristics of playing on floors, placing objects in mouths and generally remaining present in a dwelling for long periods of time.
Considering that meth contamination may remain for years on surfaces, including within building materials, there is a risk of exposure for people moving into a place that was used in the past for clan lab operations. Similarly, exposure may occur during renovation activities.
Unfortunately, the problem of methamphetamine is likely to continue to be an issue for individuals and organisations selling or purchasing a property, as well as general occupants. By engaging with accredited laboratories like Envirolab and LABTEC, who are up-to-date with the standards and procedures in the absolute testing for meth and other drug residues, clients can avoid costly errors.
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