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How to Recognize a Meth Lab

Ingredients to Make Meth Can Be Toxic

By

Updated June 04, 2014

Meth Labs
Larry W. Smith /StringerCollectionGetty Images News
The ingredients used to make methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories are generally household products that by themselves present little danger, but when combined can have serious toxic and explosive effects.

If you came in contact with a methamphetamine lab operation, how would you know it? What ingredients and equipment would be present? What should you do if you find a meth lab?

Ingredients of Meth

Most of the chemicals used to make methamphetamine are not dangerous, but some of them are hazardous by themselves. Here are some of the common chemicals and ingredients that can be used to produce meth:

  • Acetone
  • Anhydrous ammonia
  • Battery acid (sulfuric acid)
  • Brake cleaner (toluene)
  • Cold tablets containing pseudoephedrine
  • Drain cleaner (sodium hydroxide)
  • Freon
  • Iodine crystals
  • Paint thinner
  • Reactive metals (sodium or lithium)
  • Red phosphorus
  • Starting fluid (ether)
If you see any of the above ingredients stockpiled in greater than usual amounts, it could be an indication that someone is operating a meth lab.

Meth Laboratory Indicators

The equipment and processes used to produce meth can also reveal the existence of a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, here are some indicators of a meth lab:

  • Propane tanks with fittings that have turned blue.

  • Occupants of the residence constantly going outside to smoke.

  • Strong smell of urine or unusual chemical smells such as ether, ammonia or acetone.

  • An usual amount of cold tablet containers that list ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as ingredients.

  • Jars containing clear liquid with a white or red colored solid on the bottom.

  • Jars containing iodine or dark shiny metallic purple crystals inside of jars.

  • Jars containing red phosphorus or a fine dark red or purple powder.

  • Coffee filters containing a white pasty substance, a dark red sludge, or small amounts of shiny white crystals.

  • Bottles containing sulfuric, muriatic or hydrochloric acid.

  • Bottles or jars with rubber tubing attached.

  • Glass cookware or frying pans containing a powdery residue.

  • An large number of cans of camp fuel, paint thinner, acetone, starter fluid, lye, and drain cleaners containing sulfuric acid or bottles containing muriatic acid.

  • Large amounts of lithium batteries, especially ones that have been stripped.

  • Soft silver or gray metallic ribbon (in chunk form) stored in oil or kerosene.

Many of the above items are found in normal household products, but if they are gathered together in higher than usual amounts, it could indicate meth production activity.

If You Find a Lab

Do not touch anything in the lab area and do not sniff any containers. Do not turn any electrical power switches or light switches on or off. Do not open or move any of the containers with chemicals in them.

Whatever you do, do not smoke, eat or drink anywhere near a methamphetamine laboratory.

If you come in contact with a meth lab, you should decontaminate yourself and your clothing as quickly as possible, wash your hands and face thoroughly, and call your local authorities.

Cleaning up a clandestine meth lab is a dangerous and complicated process which should be handled by trained professionals. Do not attempt to clean up or dispose of a suspected meth lab yourself.

Sources:
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, "Drug Information: Methamphetamine" July 2006.
National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Research Report - Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction" Sept. 2006

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