Safety and first aid

Illicit drug activities and residues in homes

Houses that are used for smoking, growing or manufacturing illicit drugs may pose a potential health risk to current and future occupants. The health risk depends on the type of activity undertaken at the house.

Risks can be divided into two major types:

  • chemical residues, which are usually invisible and often persistent
  • structural alterations/damage to the house

Houses of concern include

Clan labs

A house, building or outdoor area used to manufacture or ‘cook’ methylamphetamine (meth) (and sometimes other illegal drugs) is called a clandestine laboratory (clan lab). Occasionally, these activities can lead to explosions and major structural damage from fire. The level of contamination from a clan lab has the potential to be a high health risk. The health risk is due to the potential for direct contact with very high concentrations of lingering drug residues. Only qualified forensic testers and cleaners are permitted to remediate (clean-up) a clab lab.

Illicit drug smoke houses

An illicit drug smoke house is typically a residential house used to smoke meth or other illicit drugs, but not manufacture them. The contamination level in an illicit drug smoke house does have the potential to be significant in situations where heavy usage has occurred but generally will be far lower than that associated with a clan lab. Cleaning is normally easier than that associated with clan labs and may include the use of commercial cleaners.

Grow houses

A grow house is typically a house used to grow a crop of cannabis (marijuana) for sale. The structural alterations/damage to the house can be extensive and may require major renovations to bring the property back to compliance with building standards. Read about repairing a cannabis grow house.

The most significant health risks are the safety of entry due to potential structural instability of the house (as a result of unauthorised alterations, including electrical), potential water damage and exposure to spores from mould growing inside the residence. Occasionally, residues may also be found from pesticides, trace elements in fertilisers, and other volatile drugs or chemicals.

Who is responsible for remediation?

The main party responsible for cleaning and/or repairing an effected property is the owner, or the managing agent on the owner’s behalf.

Identifying illegal drug activities

The following may indicate a house or other property possibly being used as a cannabis grow house or for other illicit drug activities:

  • frequent visitors at odd hours
  • windows blackened out or curtains always drawn
  • occupants unfriendly, appear secretive about their activities, exhibit odd behaviour
  • access made difficult to landlords, neighbours, property managers and other agents
  • constant noise such as fans running, or electrical humming, especially at night
  • expensive security and surveillance equipment
  • rent paid in cash.

Each type of illegal drug activity has its own set of potential health hazards and as a safety first principle – Do not enter a suspected contaminated property.

Reporting illegal drug activities

Report the address to WA Police or contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or via Crime Stoppers (external site).

More information

Local government Council/ Shire Environmental Health Officers can assist with information about the correct procedures for the clean-up and management of illicit drug residues for houses and other properties located within their jurisdiction. For more information contact your local government Environmental Health Officer.

For general information on illicit drug residues in the home, contact the Environmental Health Directorate on 9222 2000 or by emailing ehinfo@health.wa.gov.au


Last reviewed: 24-07-2019
Acknowledgements

Public Health


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

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