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Meth Labs

Many illegal methamphetamine products in the US come from hidden meth labs, which are usually in unsafe places like dirty basements or shacks. These labs lack safety measures for handling toxic chemicals and are prone to explosions and fires. Recognizing and reporting these labs is important to protect communities and the environment from the harmful substances they release.

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What Is a Meth Lab?

Meth labs are dangerous, hastily assembled places where people manufacture illegal methamphetamine-based drugs. The term “lab” is used loosely, as common meth lab settings include basements, sheds, shacks, and cabins.

Very little care is put into the safety of these labs, making them contamination time bombs waiting to go off if not handled carefully. The products used for meth production are often corrosive, produce hazardous waste, and can be life-threatening in some instances.

In fact, according to the Department of Justice, the average methamphetamine laboratory produces 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste for every pound of methamphetamine produced.

How Common Are Meth Labs?

Meth labs are, unfortunately, still very common in the United States.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), more than 7,500 laboratories were seized in 44 states in 2002.

Methamphetamine production is more common in the western US, but labs are still found further east.

Meth labs can pop up anywhere from a suburban garage to an abandoned shed in a rural area. Because the materials necessary to produce meth include relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients, small clandestine labs can thrive.

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How Is Meth Made?

Meth is made through the use of many toxic chemicals that pose serious risks to public health. While some more benign ingredients are sold over the counter, like common cold medications pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, other ingredients aren’t so friendly.

Depending on the method, many meth cooks use corrosive substances that produce incredibly dangerous byproducts.

Common potentially hazardous chemicals used in meth production include:

  • Acetone
  • Antifreeze
  • Drain cleaner
  • Paint thinner
  • Lithium metal
  • Sodium metal
  • Anhydrous ammonia (fertilizers)
  • Lye
  • Methanol
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Trichloroethane (gun cleaner)

Common materials used in meth production include:

  • Duct tape
  • Coffee filters
  • Aluminum foil
  • Gas cans
  • Rubber tubing
  • Tempered glassware
  • Propane cylinders
  • Funnels
  • Laboratory beakers and glassware
  • Rubber gloves
  • Strainers

Effects of Meth Use

Methamphetamine has very damaging health effects on the central nervous system and the overall physical health of meth users. Unsurprisingly, an illegal drug so dangerous to human health would also be hazardous to produce.

Common negative effects of meth use include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching
  • Memory loss
  • Violent behavior
  • Psychosis
  • Nerve damage
  • Liver damage
  • Seizures
  • Increased risk of HIV and hepatitis
  • Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease

How Realistic Is Breaking Bad?

Breaking Bad is relatively accurate in its portrayal of how meth is produced.

The main character and high school chemistry teacher Walter White “cooks” the drug in an RV in the desert due to the dangerous chemicals used.

His early use of cold medicine demonstrates his understanding of meth production. In the show, White later switches to other methods of making meth due to the government’s crackdown on cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine.

Of course, the show is a drama, first and foremost. While there are some genuine accuracies, meth labs are far more dangerous and ugly affairs, requiring careful decontamination for public and environmental safety.

The Dangers of Meth Labs

The danger of meth labs is due to how unstable and corrosive the chemicals used in production can be. During production, there is a constant risk of explosion, contamination, serious injury, and death.

“Meth cooks, their family members, and first responders are often the ones who are injured (or worse) in illegal drug labs. Waste dumped from meth labs can expose people to toxic chemicals.” —The Washington State Department of Health

Additionally, when labs are discovered or “busted,” they can pose severe risks to local law enforcement, first responders, property owners, and bystanders if not cleaned and appropriately decontaminated.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lab cleanup often requires teams specializing in meth lab remediation to ensure the safe removal of hazardous waste.

Risks associated with each common chemical used in meth production include:

  • Acetone/ethyl alcohol: Extremely flammable. Inhalation or ingestion of these solvents causes severe gastric irritation, narcosis, or coma.
  • Freon: Inhalation can cause sudden cardiac arrest or severe lung damage.
  • Anhydrous ammonia: Inhalation causes edema of the respiratory tract and asphyxia. Contact with vapors damages eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Red phosphorus: May explode as a result of contact or friction. Vapor from ignited phosphorus severely irritates the nose, throat, lungs, and eyes.
  • Hypophosphorous acid: Extremely dangerous substitute for red phosphorus. If overheated, deadly phosphine gas is released. Poses a serious fire and explosion hazard.
  • Lithium metal: Extremely caustic to all body tissues. Reacts violently with water and poses a fire or explosion hazard.
  • Hydriodic acid: A corrosive acid with vapors irritating the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. If ingested, causes severe internal irritation and damage that may cause death.
  • Iodine crystals: Give off a vapor that is irritating to the respiratory system and eyes. Solid form irritates the eyes and may burn the skin. If ingested, causes severe internal damage.
  • Lye: High concentrations can cause severe burns to the eyes, skin, digestive system, or lungs, resulting in permanent damage or death.
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How to Tell if You’ve Encountered a Meth Lab

Clandestine drug lab incidents are common, and the chemicals used can be very unstable. Trying to get involved could put your own life and the lives of others in danger.

If you suspect you’ve located a meth lab, notify your local law enforcement agency immediately. You mustn’t attempt to intervene yourself.

Common signs that a meth lab may exist include:

  • Unusual odors (ether, ammonia, acetone, rotten eggs, or other chemicals)
  • Excessive amounts of trash, particularly chemical containers
  • Coffee filters or pieces of cloth that are stained red and duct tape rolls
  • Curtains are always drawn, or windows covered with aluminum foil or blackened on residences, garages, sheds, or other structures
  • Open windows vented with fans during the winter
  • Evidence of chemical waste or dumping
  • Random dead spots on plants around the property
  • Frequent visitors at unusual times
  • Extensive security measures or attempts to ensure privacy (no trespassing or beware of dog signs on fences, large trees, or shrubs)
  • Secretive or unfriendly occupants

Where Are Meth Labs Found?

You can find meth labs virtually anywhere. While they are commonly located in basements, shacks, cabins, or run-down structures, they can be set up anywhere.

That’s why knowing the warning signs associated with drug labs is important. If you suspect a drug lab exists, report it immediately.

What To Do If You Locate a Suspected Meth Lab

Common ways to report a suspected meth lab include:

The sooner you report a suspected meth lab, the more likely you are to save lives both in the lab and by preventing more illegal drugs from being made and sold

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FAQs about Meth Labs

How common are meth labs?

Unfortunately, meth labs are quite common. While their numbers are decreasing, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), more than 7,500 laboratories were seized in 44 states in 2002. Meth production is also more common in the western US.

What should I do if I find a meth lab?

Do not intervene yourself. Contact your local authorities immediately or submit a tip through Drug Enforcement Administration’s tip submission, WeTip2.0, or FBI Tips.

What chemicals are used to make meth?

Common chemicals used in the production of meth include:

  • Cold medicine like pseudoephedrine
  • Acetone
  • Antifreeze
  • Drain cleaner
  • Paint thinner
  • Lithium metal
  • Sodium metal
  • Anhydrous ammonia (fertilizers)
  • Lye
  • Methanol
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Trichloroethane (gun cleaner)

What are the 3 signs of a meth lab?

Blacked-out windows, obvious signs of chemical waste, and frequent visitors at unusual times.

Is it dangerous to live near a meth lab?

Yes. Unstable chemicals mishandled can lead to explosions and fires. That’s why reporting suspected meth labs is essential for your own safety and the safety of everyone else.

How do I know if my house used to be a meth lab?

Common signs that your house may be a former meth lab include:

  • Strange ventilation
  • Unusual odors like the smell of cat urine or rotten eggs
  • Corrosive stains
  • Dead spots in vegetation
  • Evidence of previously covered windows
  • Leftover equipment like rubber tubing, measuring cups, beakers, coffee filters, and lithium batteries

According to the EPA, property owners should contact their local authorities for assistance with cleanup. Making meth produces dangerous chemicals that may still be present even if the actual production has shut down.

Where are meth labs located?

Meth labs can be located in any structure. However, common locations for meth labs include basements, shacks, cabins, and sheds.

How often do meth labs explode?

Meth lab explosions are unfortunately common. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency identified 939 methamphetamine lab incidents in Ohio in 2014, the fourth-highest total in the country.

How do meth labs affect the environment?

When meth labs explode, they can spread corrosive chemicals into the air and local environment. That’s why meth labs in neighborhoods are of particular concern.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Dangers of Meth Labs. USDA Forest Service | Safety and Crime Prevention. (n.d.).
  2. Methamphetamine Drug Threat Assessment. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2005, March).
  3. Methamphetamine Laboratory Identification and Hazards Fast Facts. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2003, December).
  4. Ohio Drug Threat Assessment. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2001, April).
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023, March 3). Methamphetamine DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  6. Meth Labs. Washington State Department of Health. (n.d.).

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