Clandestine drug laboratories – are you at risk?
Clandestine drug laboratories, also known as clan labs, are sites where illegal drugs are manufactured in secret, usually with improvised materials and methods.
Clan labs in Western Australia
Hundreds of clan labs have been discovered in recent years, mainly in metropolitan Perth and larger regional centres. WA clan labs are often smaller and of a lower contamination risk than those found in other parts of Australia.
Clan labs – usually producing producing methylamphetamine (also known as speed, meth and ice) – have been discovered in bush sites and vacant land, but many more are found in rented homes.
Cleaning up clan lab sites
While WA Police and ChemCentre remove the bulk of drug-related chemicals, clan lab sites may still be contaminated with residue or waste material and this can pose a health risk to occupants.
Clan lab sites should be cleaned up using procedures outlined in WA Health’s Guidelines for the Notification and Risk Management of a Clandestine Drug Laboratory – March 2014. Read more about these guidelines (external site).
The procedures are facilitated by WA Health. Relevant local government authorities (or the Department of Housing for public housing) are responsible for regulating the decontamination of clan lab sites. In cases of external contamination, such as of soil, the Department of Environment Regulation (external site) may become involved.
What are the risks associated with clan labs?
When making illegal drugs, clan lab operators risk being exposed to:
- toxic and corrosive gases.
These risks also apply to people involved with an operating lab, although to a lesser degree.
Even when the clan lab is not being used or has been abandoned, the residues, in particular methylamphetamine, may still be a health risk. Depending on the level of exposure, this can result in a range of health effects including various forms of mental illness.
Who is at risk?
Clan labs pose a health risk to both the people operating the lab and other people using the site. If the area is not cleaned up properly, people using the site in the future may also be at risk.
Depending on the level of contamination and its location, clan lab residue or waste material is especially dangerous for:
- young children
- pregnant women.
Visitors to the site are less likely to be affected.
What about neighbours?
Although gas or aerosol contamination can spread beyond the clan lab production or disposal site, it usually stays in the surrounding area or dilutes as it disperses.
Occasional smells coming from the clan lab site during its operation may indicate that low level exposure may be occurring. After the lab is dismantled, it poses less of a health and environmental risk.
If waste material has been left in the yard of the clan lab site, it may seep into the underlying ground. It will normally not move into another property though some ground water contamination is possible if enough waste has been discarded and not thoroughly cleaned-up.
In the event of a clan lab-related fire or explosion, any effects on neighbours are not likely to be associated with clan lab chemicals specifically.
If you live near a clan lab
If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to dangerous chemicals as a result of a nearby clan lab, contact WA Health for further advice. In most cases the risk-level of people who are not occupants of the site is likely very low, and likely insignificant after drug manufacturing has stopped.
If you live in premises where a clan lab was located
You only need to be concerned if there was no documented clean up. If in doubt, thorough cleaning is recommended using a slightly alkaline detergent. WA Health or local government may be able to help in regard to the history of the site or with precautionary advice.
If you lived in premises while a clan lab was operating
If you lived in a home while a clan lab was operational you should look for any possible resulting health effects on you or your family and consult a doctor if need be.
What can be done?
If you suspect a clan lab may be operating, contact Crime Stoppers anonymously on 1800 333 000.
WA Health Environmental Health Directorate
Department of Environment Regulation
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