Clean Up Of Properties Suspected of Being Former Drug Labs

Note to Realtors®, Landlords, and property managers: Failure to arrange for proper cleaning can result in legal settlements that can be quite costly.

Unfortunately, a drug lab can be set up in a private home, apartment, college campus, hotel room or a business location. Once these clandestine labs are dismantled and the area is vacated (either through the operation being discovered by authorities or simply moving on), contamination from the manufacturing process will remain until properly removed. Thorough decontamination is necessary since exposure to drug residue can cause serious health issues, such as respiratory problems, migraines, brain damage, and skin irritations. In severe cases long-term exposure to unventilated areas can lead to death.

Realtors®, Landlords, and Rental Property Managers. These professionals should be very familiar with the signs associated with a property that could be a former drug lab. Cleanup can be costly and time consuming, yet failure to decontaminate the space can lead to drastic legal ramifications (as noted in the linked article) and associated costs that far exceed cleanup expenses. It is essential to be aware of warning signs of a potential drug lab.

Warning Signs Of A Potential Drug Lab. Here are 4 warning signs that may indicate the presence of a lab at some point.

  1. Empty chemical boxes and containers – large quantities of over-the-counter medications such as decongestants, stimulants, and asthma medications, and other chemicals such as acetone, lye, paint thinner, hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, and phosphoric acid.
  2. Dead patches of grass near the structure – caused by dumping chemicals that were used in the production process. Chemical disposal or spills can also stain other surfaces, like concrete.
  3. Complaints from neighbors – they may have noticed strange comings and goings, strong chemical odors, excessive nighttime activity, windows blacked out, and excessive amounts of trash. These reports should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
  4. Laboratory and other unusual equipment – in addition to common household items, drug labs use propane tanks, camp stove fuel canisters, pressurized cylinders, rubber hosing, duct tape, and miscellaneous glass containers.

 What To Do If You Suspect A Drug Lab. If the space is occupied and a lab is suspected, do not approach the occupants. Report the situation to local law enforcement and let them handle it. If the property has been vacated, contact a trained and licensed hazardous materials professional. They can perform testing and, when necessary, thorough decontamination. In the State of Colorado, a property is considered a drug lab if there are 0.05 grams of a synthetic drug in a 3.5-inch section of the area..

When the presence of a drug lab has been established, cleanup will focus on primary and secondary areas. Primary areas include the main “cooking” area, including walls, ceilings, closets, flooring, and any furnishings in the room. Disposal areas are also primary, and include sinks, toilets, vents, fans, and sewer systems. Secondary areas include adjacent hallways and rooms.

Generally speaking, cleanup will include the following:

  • Airing out the space
  • Removing soft furnishings, wallpaper, carpet (if still present)
  • Removing sinks, tubs/showers, toilets, and pipes
  • Chemical washing of non-porous and semi-porous surfaces
  • Cleaning vents and ductwork, including replacing air filters
  • Flushing the plumbing system with a chemical cleaner
  • Testing after cleanup is complete to ensure effective decontamination

In extreme cases tile, countertops, walls, and ceilings may need to be replaced. Also, if the plumbing system is highly contaminated, this will need to be removed and replaced. Further steps toward decontamination may be taken depending on the severity of contamination.

Cleaning up a synthetic drug lab is an investment of time and money. But considering the threat to the health of future occupants and the legal exposure for realtors, landlords, and property managers, this investment is one that must be made. Please give Paragon Environmental a call at 303.529.1257 if you suspect a location is or was a former drug lab.

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