Environmental impacts of methamphetamine

The fire above was believed to have started by a meth lab explosion. (File)

The process of making methamphetamine - in both large and small laboratories - involves at least one, and sometimes more than one, stage with a significant risk of explosion and/or fire.

Some of the chemicals used to produce methamphetamine have independent toxicity; when combined, they can have serious toxic and explosive effects. Some of the common ingredients in methamphetamine are:

Starting fluid (ether)

Paint thinner



Anhydrous ammonia

Iodine crystals

Red phosphorous

Brake cleaner (toluene)

Drain cleaner (sodium hydroxide)

Battery acid (sulfuric acid)

Reactive metals (sodium or lithium)

Cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine

Every pound of methamphetamine produced can yield up to five pounds in toxic waste

The cost of cleaning up methamphetamine labs has been dropped dramatically, due to improved technology and support from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). DEA estimates that the average direct cost to clean up a lab several years ago was about $17,000, but is now $2,000 to $3,000 per lab.

There are additional ancillary costs associated with meth lab cleanup, such as property damage, reduced property value, salaries and overtime for law enforcement and medical personnel, medical costs for suspects or innocent bystanders (including children) injured or poisoned from the lab, and criminal justice costs associated with arrest and prosecution. All told, these ancillary costs can cost taxpayers tenfold, or more, the direct cost of cleanup per incident.

To help local law enforcement with these cleanup costs, the DEA's pilot "Container Program" in Kentucky allows trained law enforcement officers to safely package and transport hazardous waste from the clandestine laboratory sites to a centralized secure container. The pilot program has dropped direct cleanup costs in that state even further, to just a few hundred dollars.

* Source: United States Drug Enforcement Administration