Safety and first aid

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 in other parts of Australia.

The labs usually produce methylamphetamine (also known as speed, meth and ice) and are found mainly in rented homes. Other places are also possible such as commercial buildings, bush sites and vacant land.

An overview on these labs is provided in Clandestine drug laboratories brochure (joint Department of Health WA and WA Police Service publication) (PDF 922KB).

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.

At the conclusion of the WA Police investigation, proper site decontamination should be undertaken by the owner as outlined in the WA Health guidelines (external site).

The procedures are facilitated by WA Health. Relevant local government authorities (or the Department of Communities for public housing) are responsible for regulating the decontamination of clan lab sites.

What are the risks associated with clan labs?

When making illegal drugs, clan lab operators risk being exposed to:

  • fires
  • explosions
  • toxic and corrosive gases.

These risks also apply to other 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:

  • toddlers
  • 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 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 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, request that this be undertaken. WA Health or local government may be able to help in regard to the history of the site or with precautionary advice.

The Illegal Drug Activity in Homes: Managing Risk – Guide for tenants, landlords, property managers and agents (PDF 249KB) can provide you with further information on identifying and managing illicit drug contamination. WA Health or your 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, such as respiratory, mental or behavioural changes, and consult a doctor if needed.

What can be done?

If you suspect a clan lab may be operating, contact Crime Stoppers anonymously on 1800 333 000.

More information

WA Health Environmental Health Directorate

Phone: 9222 2000

Local government

Visit the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries website (external site).

Department of Water and Environmental Regulation

Phone: 1300 784 782

WA Police

Phone: 131 444

Crime Stoppers

Phone: 1800 333 000

Last reviewed: 24-07-2019

Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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