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Clandestine Labs

What Is A Clandestine Drug Laboratory?

A Clandestine laboratory is a laboratory used for the primary purpose of illicitly (illegally) manufacturing controlled substances, such as cocaine, LSD, synthetic heroin other drugs, but their drug of choice is methamphetamine, commonly called speed or crank. A smokeable form of methamphetamine called ice, glass or crystal is also produced. Clandestine labs are typically small, utilizing common household appliances, glassware, and readily available chemicals.

These homemade drugs are dangerous, but the labs are equally dangerous and can be located in any neighborhood. Many of the chemicals used are caustic or corrosive, and some of the processes create noxious and harmful fumes. Toxic chemicals, explosions, fires, booby traps, armed criminals - any of these can mean disaster for the people who inadvertently stumble onto the labs.

If You Spot A Clan Lab
LEAVE THE AREA AT ONCE. Anyone without proper training and protective gear should stay at least 500 feet away from any suspected clandestine laboratory.

IMMEDIATELY CONTACT your police or sheriff to notify them of your suspicions. CALL 911 if you think you've been exposed to toxic chemicals.

DON'T INVESTIGATE because of the danger to you and anyone else in the area. Most law enforcement agencies have narcotics teams. Busting clan labs is their job, let them do it.

Why Clan Labs Are Dangerous
Explosion and fire are probably the most common hazards. Usually the lab has a mixture of volatile chemicals, such as ether, that is carelessly handled by a criminal-chemist who works in a poorly ventilated room.

These high concentrations of toxic fumes and explosive chemicals create a dangerous situation. Actions such as knocking over a container, having a lit cigarette, or switching on electrical equipment that makes a spark is enough to cause an explosion. Contact with the chemicals is extremely hazardous. Whether in their raw form or after they've been "cooked" into finished drugs, touching these chemicals or just breathing their fumes can cause fainting, sickness or permanent injury. Some law enforcement officers have suffered serious injuries such as a collapsed lung, pneumonia and chemical bronchitis from exposure to fumes.

Even months after a lab has been closed, chemical residue that has seeped into the carpet or wood can be dangerous. Police and Firefighters must take special safety courses to handle meth situations because of the likelihood of explosions, invisible poison gases and other dangers. People who come into contact with the highly toxic chemicals used to make the drug can become sick and prolonged exposure can lead to cancer. Unfortunately, victims don't always realize that they have been exposed because the symptoms may not surface for many days or weeks.

One key ingredient, hydriodic acid, can dissolve flesh in seconds and has fumes so toxic small amounts can collapse the lungs. There's red phosphorous, another ingredient which if mishandled, converts to yellow phosphorus and can ignite spontaneously.

  • Besides hydriotic acid, other chemicals include phosphene gas, which is so deadly that one sniff kills. There's red phosphorus, which ifmishandled, converts to yellow phosphorus and can ignite spontaneously. Meth makers also use solvents like ether, chloroform and Freon.
  • Lab mistakes can be catastrophic. Two men died in a California lab after they dropped a cask of cooking meth, releasing phosphene gas. One victim had stuffed dirt in his mouth in a futile effort to ease the burning.

How To Detect A Clan Lab
In both rural and urban areas, anyone can unexpectedly come across a clandestine laboratory.

Many people may be unaware that they're living near a meth lab. Here are some things to look for:

  • Unusual, strong odors (like cat urine, ether, ammonia, acetone or other chemicals).
  • Residences with windows blacked out.
  • Renters who pay their landlords in cash. (Most drug dealers trade exclusively in cash.)
  • Lots of traffic - people coming and going at unusual times. There may be little traffic during the day, but at night the activity increases dramatically.
  • People going outside the building only long enough to smoke, especially at motels or during bad weather.
  • New high fences with no visible livestock or animals.
  • Excessive trash including large amounts of items such as: antifreeze containers, lantern fuel cans, red chemically stained coffee filters, drain cleaner and duct tape.
  • Unusual amounts of clear glass containers being brought into the home.

Presence of the following items could indicate the existence of a meth lab:

Alcohol, Ether, Benzene
Toluene/Paint Thinner, Freon, Acetone
Chloroform, Camp Stove Fuel/Coleman Fuel, Starting Fluid
Anhydrous Ammonia, "Heet", White Gasoline
Phenyl-2-Propane, Phenylacetone, Phenylpropanolamine
Iodine Crystals, Red Phosphorous, Black Iodine
Lye (Red Devil Lye), Drano, Muriatic/Hydrochloric Acid
Battery Acid/Sulfuric Acid, Epsom Salts, Batteries/Lithium
Sodium Metal, Wooden Matches, Propane Cylinders
Hot Plates, Ephedrine (over-the-counter), Cold Tablets
Bronchodialators, Energy Boosters, Rock Salt, Diet Aids.

Where Clan Labs Are Located
Clan labs are usually found in: Rural rentals with absentee landlords (homes, barns, mobile homes or outbuildings). Urban home or apartment rentals with absentee landlords.

  • Trailers and motor homes.
  • Motel rooms.
  • Houseboats.
  • Mini-storage units. These are used to store chemicals, drugs, lab equipment and weapons.

How Clan Labs Are Transported
Clan labs are usually portable and can be quickly disassembled and moved to a new location.

Be alert. "Cookers" or criminal-chemists move labs frequently to escape detection, using freeways as well as rural and urban roads. Any type of size of vehicle may be used for transport. This includes pick-up trucks, motor homes, cars and tractor-trailer rigs.

Be aware. A vehicle carrying chemicals can be just as explosive and toxic as a working lab. Drug cookers are often in a hurry and very careless when they load up chemicals and lab equipment.

Be careful. If you stop at an accident scene or are looking at an abandoned vehicle, unusual chemical odors or visible laboratory type equipment may be the only warning you get.

Be suspicious. Discarded chemicals and equipment are hazardous. Cookers often dump toxic waste or lab equipment anywhere. They don't care about the extreme danger and hazards to people, property or the environment.

How Clan Labs Are Booby-Trapped
Booby traps are used by the cookers for warning and protection. Any normal movement, such as opening a door or flipping on a switch, can trigger these traps. Unfortunately, any unsuspecting person who stumbles onto a clan lab site can lose an arm, a leg or a life. Common booby traps include: Trip wires designed to set off alarms, explosive or toxic chemical devices. Hidden pongee sticks. These are buried wooden planks with large nails or spikes protruding upward. Light switches, refrigerators, VCRs or other electrical appliances wired to explosive devices.

How You Can Help
Know what to look for, and be alert. Your knowledge and quick action can help close down a lab and prevent serious injury or death to yourself and others. But remember, clan labs are toxic time bombs, frequently booby-trapped, and often have heavily armed persons inside or nearby.

Don't investigate - call the police or sheriff.

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