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Effects of residue from heavy use or manufacture of methamphetamine

Updated: Jun 3, 2018

In spite of the study commissioned by the New Zealand Government, residue from methamphetamine manufacture is recognised as toxic, but there are very few studies that have examined long term exposure to such residues. While there is little documented evidence of harm related absolutely to exposure to such residues, it is clear that absorption of residue can cause effects that several researchers suggest will be diagnosed as allergies, flu-like conditions and other respiratory disorders.


Meth Labs are not large and complex.


A common method of meth manufacture is the so-called ‘shake and bake’ system which relies on little more than a glass jar and some chemicals. This method relies on a pressurized mixture of hazardous and incompatible chemicals.


Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine is extracted from over the counter preparations or smuggled into the country. Then the ephedrine/pseudoephedrine is combined with anhydrous ammonia gas from the ammonia nitrate/sulphate in cold packs and lithium from batteries to produce methamphetamine.

The final step to produce methamphetamine is the introduction of hydrochloric acid gas; which releases significantly more meth residue in comparison to the previous steps. These mini-labs are highly pressurized and the glass jars are subject to bursting releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment. This type of lab is small and very easy to conceal.


There are numerous empirical studies that argue coherently with the NZ Government’s current position. Martyny et al (2007) in the Journal of Chemical Health and Safety state that people entering the suspected laboratory should also assume that items and persons associated with the “cook” area are chemically contaminated and need to be decontaminated. Salocks et al (2012) went on to say that when the pH level exceeds 4 or 5, the nonvolatile [14C]-meth HCl salt becomes unstable, likely converting to its volatile freebase form. Additionally, contaminated smooth, dense surfaces retain and transfer more [14C]-meth HCl than those with rough, loose surfaces, especially under acidic conditions.


More importantly and closer to home a University of Auckland study by McKenzie, MisKelly and Gordon stated that intensive methamphetamine smoking sometimes generates surface methamphetamine concentrations comparable to those generated to manufacture ... During synthesis, several other compounds are produced in addition to methamphetamine. Some of these compounds have unknown human health impacts.


In general one has to make the personal choice of taking a risk and exposing adults and children to residues of heavy meth use or production when the effect of such exposure remains uncertain. Opting to be aware that such residues exist and choosing to ignore them or at least undertake a detailed surface clean needs to be an informed choice.

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