One question I get from home buyers is “How do I know if a meth lab was in this home?” This is generally for bank-owned homes, and particularly for those located in rural, out-of-the-way places. In Lenawee County, this is not as much an issues as in places like Detroit, Monroe, Lansing, etc., but it does happen. Young families buying their first home, or those who have suspicious activities in their neighborhood, should be aware.
If I were to walk into a home for an inspection and I suspected a problem by what I saw or smelled, I would walk right back out and call the police. You should do the same. If you suspect a problem at a home in your neighborhood, do not do anything yourself. Contact the authorities and let them deal with it. Below are the signs that you should be aware of.
There are a myriad of dangers, both social and physical, at a meth lab. Because of the illegal, but usually highly profitable, drug activity, firearms and gang members might be present at the site. Chemical contamination and catastrophic events, such as explosions and fires, also are likely to occur at the lab. There are ways of detecting meth labs both from physical indicators and by observing behaviors of those near the suspected lab.
Meth production involves cooking chemicals and medicines to produce the drug. The byproduct of the cooking process creates foul odors, which often smell like rotten eggs, cat urine, ammonia, ether, paint thinner or other solvents. The home might smell from the outside, and the odors inside will be particularly strong in an active lab. Odors will likely linger in former labs as well.
Meth producers use many materials to cook the drugs, and the garbage coming from the suspected house often can indicate a meth lab’s presence. People who suspect a meth lab is nearby should keep an eye out for a large quantity of specific items. These include the equipment needed to cook the meth: flasks, rubber tubing, funnels, clamps, face masks, rubber or latex gloves and camp stove fuel. Also, look for packaging of ingredients used in meth production: paint thinner, cold or allergy medications, alcohol, acetone, antifreeze, used lithium batteries and rock salt. Evidence of a meth lab also can be deduced from common household items that appear in garbage with signs of unusual use. For example, coffee filters stained red or holding a powdery substance often point to meth lab use, as do soda bottles that have tubing coming from them. All of this garbage might be bagged and placed for pickup each week, but items strewn about the property also can point to a meth lab.
Unusual Ventilation or Window Coverings
Because of the activity within and the likely paranoia of the drug producers, windows at meth labs often are papered over. The windows otherwise might have heavy drapes that are rarely, if ever, opened. Some cookers also modify the home’s ventilation because of the odors created. If there are an unusually high number of fans or blowers in windows, or if the windows are open regularly even in cold weather, this can indicate a meth lab’s presence.
Dead Plants or Grass
The byproducts of meth are deadly, and the chemicals that go into making it are caustic. Some cookers will dispose of the byproducts in the yard, and this kills off all vegetation in the area and creates black patches in the yard.
Unusual Social Activity
Meth lab sites might be particularly busy at night, with a string of visitors who only stay for a short time. However, high security is likely to go along with this, and the site might be guarded by aggressive dogs or people. Meth labs often have electronic monitoring equipment as well, such as mounted video cameras or baby monitors outside the building. Unexpected visitors, such as neighbors or landlords, are likely to be turned away at the door. You also might rarely see the home’s inhabitants outside, except to smoke — this happens because a lit cigarette can trigger fires or explosions.
How to test a home
ALS Environmental in Salt Lake City is the company the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recommends people use for a preliminary and relatively inexpensive test. Those interested in a kit can call the company at 1-800-356-9135. They can ship a kit for $5.00 and then the analysis runs $45.00. The results come via email.