Clandestine Drug Laboratory Dangers

A CDL (clandestine drug lab) is a place, laboratory or room where chemicals and equipments are used to manufacture illegal drugs. These labs, are set up in homes, motels and rooms in hotels, apartment buildings, house-trailers, mobile-trailers, commercial houses, in vehicles, on boats, and out-buildings i.e. sheds and pole barns. Toxic gaseous chemicals are released into the atmosphere when these drugs are made. They then settle on walls and other surfaces, spills into rivers on land and in personal belongings where they can cause harm to people living around those places through inhalation or by touching them. Therefore, this paper will discuss on the signs of CDLs, show the dangers associated with them then explain actions I will take in regard to a case I have been presented with.

In identifying clandestine drug labs the following are the most common signs to look out for, found around the sites. Strong pungent urine like smells, or odd chemical odor like ammonia or acetone are normally present; the windows to the CDLs are normally blacked out with activities and traffic at abnormal hours; people do move in and out while smoking, indications of spilled and burnt chemicals are present; dark reddish phosphoric stains on sinks, in toilets and bathrooms and reddish stains on the wall, floors, counter tops and other surfaces are also evident. Other signs include visible places with chemical dumps, burnt pits having charred chemical containers, yellow or dead plants; cookware having powdery residues, packages from big amounts of cold medicines; propone containers/tanks having fittings corroded to bluish green colors, and jars or bottles having affixed rubber tubing.

According to (Barr, 2005) the following signs are also present in these areas; pots holding clear liquids with whitish or red colored solids at the base, pots/jars with glistening metallic-purple crystals; Coffee filtering with reddish stains, whitish pastes or diminutive amounts of sparkly whitish crystals, jars and Soft-silver or gray-metallic ribbon chunks kept in oil and Kerosene. Excess wastes with big quantities of the following can also be present:

Alcohol, benzene, toluene/paint thinner, Freon, acetone, chloroform, camp stove fuel, starter fluid, anti-freeze, anhydrous ammonia, Heet, white gasoline, phenyl-2-propane, phenyl acetone, phenyl propanolamine, iodine crystals, red phosphorous, black iodine, lye, Drano, muriatic or hydrochloric acid, battery acid or Sulphuric acid, Epsom salts, batteries/lithium, sodium metal, wooden matches, propane cylinders, hot plates, ephedrine, pseudo-ephedrine, cold tablets, bronchodilators, energy boosters, rock salt, and diet aid (Barr, 2005).

Apart from side effects of drugs made from CDLs, they have several other dangers. The dangers associated with CDLs are either immediate or overtime as a result of contamination. Some of these as shown by (Campbell & Smith, 2008) are, contamination, subjection to fires and explosions, dangerous lifestyles that includes the use of firearms, communal risks among others.

CDLs cause chemical contamination dangers because, the substances used in cooking the illegal drugs, plus their poisonous compounds and derivatives that result from the manufacturing, generate poisonous smoke, vapor, and spilling. When an individual staying near these laboratories inhales or accidentally swallows these poisonous substances; inhales second-hand smoke of people using these drugs; injects or accidentally gets a skin prick from disposed needles and other equipments; absorbs these elements in the skin after contacting a contaminated surface, cloths, or foodstuffs or alternatively ingest them, they can become directly sick or have long term medical effects. Individuals having low low-level contact may develop nausea and fatigue but high-level contact causes short-breath, coughs, pains in the chest, lack of harmonization, irritating eyes, burns and even instant death. Corrosive elements on the other hand, cause inhalation, or skin injuries. Chronic contact is known to irritate respiratory tract, affects the central nervous systems, is cancerous and can even cause birth defects.

Most of these labs do explode from time to time as a result of toxic substances. As stated by (Barr, 2005), “approximately 15% of these labs are discovered as a result of a fire or explosion. Careless handling and overheating of highly-volatile hazardous chemicals or waste, and unsafe manufacturing methods cause solvents and other materials to burst into flames or explode”.

Dangerous lifestyles are also associated with these labs. These labs are associated with filthy conditions and hazardous living. “Explosives and booby traps (including trip-wires, hidden sticks with nails-spikes, and electrical appliances wired to explosive devices) have been found at some CDL sites. Loaded guns and other weapons are usually present and often found in easy-to-reach locations” (Barr, 2005).

In a scenario where I find two LPG gas cylinders with bluish or greenish discoloration on the valve and a patient, I will suspect that, this is a CDL case and particularly a methamphetamine CDL one. The first action to take is to evaluate the safety of the site while looking around for characteristics of a Clandestine Drug Lab. The next step is to attend to the patient checking his/her conditions, and then alert emergency medical services if necessary. I will again look around for more patients and asses their situations.

Following this discovery, I will inform law enforcement officials who are specialized with securing and arranging the taking away of the hazardous substances, and any lab equipments found on site. After they finish their investigation on the site, what normally follows is assess restriction, in order to avert untrained persons from assessing the site, and to decrease cross contamination to other sites. Warning symbols showing that the site is potentially contaminated are then posted to restrict any unauthorized entry. However, with special permission and especially from MDCH, owners of the particular property may assess it to repossess their personal possessions. “Recreational vehicles, campers, and other mobile dwellings where a CDL has been discovered should be impounded pending determination of contamination and subsequent action (e.g. assessment and/or destruction)” (Barr, 2005).

Notably CDLs have of late sprouted all over in many settlement areas. These are known to pose health hazards to people living in and around them. The hazards are brought about mainly by the toxic smoke, spills, contaminations and potential explosive substances found in them. This situation has necessitated governments to execute clean up exercises in a bid to eliminate them.


Barr, AM. (2005). Characteristics of CDLs. Clandestine Drug Labs, 14 (3), 34-42.

Campbell, J. & Smith, J. (2008). Homeland security and emergency medical response. Chicago: McGraw Hill Publishing.

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