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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Illegal drug labs

Illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, ecstasy and methcathinone are made in clandestine labs. These illegal drug labs create a number of health hazards. Most of the drug labs, previously, reported to Public Health were making methamphetamine.

Health risks associated with methamphetamine labs
A meth lab set up next to an RV-camper
A meth lab set up next to an RV-camper.

Methamphetamine, also known as "ice," "speed" or "crank," is a potent central nervous system stimulant. The drug is illegally produced in makeshift labs. The labs are set up at rental homes, apartments, motel rooms, garages, storage sheds, cars, campgrounds and various outbuildings. All of the processes that produce methamphetamine use a variety of chemicals including explosives, solvents, metals, salts, and corrosives.

During the drug manufacturing process additional compounds and by-products are produced. Exposure to these chemicals can have various health effects on producers and others that are unintentionally exposed. Typically, after a lab is discovered by law enforcement officials, the bulk of lab-related materials including chemicals and containers are removed. However, small amounts of contaminants can remain on floors, walls, counters, carpets, furniture, sinks, drains and ventilation systems. Exposure to even small amounts of some of these chemicals can pose serious health risks.

Every pound of methamphetamine produced generates five or more pounds of hazardous waste. Much of this waste is dumped down drains and toilets or on the ground, creating many additional contaminated sites. Such dumping has created septic tanks full of dangerous waste and chemically-contaminated drain fields, soils and surface waters.

Public Health's role
First responders removing chemicals from a meth lab.
First responders removing chemicals from a meth lab

State funding for Public Health – Seattle & King County ("Public Health") to investigate alleged clandestine drug labs ended in 2010. Consequently, Public Health no longer investigates alleged labs reported to us by county residents or law enforcement personnel. However, Public Health currently performs the following tasks for any remaining properties found contaminated before program funding ended:
  • informing the public of hazards
  • overseeing decontamination of known drug lab locations that Public Health has previously declared "unfit for use" and determining when a structure can safely be reoccupied
  • assuring that clean up contractors working at known drug lab locations properly handle and dispose of wastes generated during the cleanup process

Known illegal drug lab sites are those that have been reported to Public Health by law enforcement agencies and found by Public Health to be contaminated and unfit for use due to illegal drug manufacture or storage. After determining that a property was contaminated, Public Health posted an order at the property to prohibit its occupancy. Additionally, Public Health issued a Notice and Order to the property owner, directing the owner to have the property lawfully decontaminated. The department also filed the Notice and Order in the property records in the King County Recorder's Office.

Under state law, contaminated properties must be decontaminated by a state-certified drug lab decontamination contractor following state of Washington decontamination standards. After the decontamination work has been completed satisfactorily, Public Health files a Release with the King County Recorder's Office and the property can be reoccupied.

List of certified contractors currently licensed in Washington State to do decontamination work

Clean-up of a known drug lab location
Possible contamination of the soil and groundwater at this meth lab dumpsite.
Possible contamination of the soil and groundwater at this meth lab dumpsite.

A property owner hires a Washington State Certified Decontamination Contractor to assess the property, prepare and submit a cleanup plan to Public Health for review and approval, perform the cleanup according to the approved plan, and prepare a final report.

Is the Clean-Up Work Plan OK? (Yes or No):

  • Yes, Clean-Up Work Plan is sufficient. Next steps: Public Health sends Acceptance Letter to Contractor
    • Oversee decontamination
    • Following completion of clean-up activities, contractor submits final report to Public Health for review

  • No, Clean-Up Work is not OK. Send Revision Request Letter to Contractor.

Is Final Report OK? (Yes or No):

  • Yes, Final Report is OK. Release of Decontamination Order is sent to the property owner and recorded at King County Division of Records and Elections.

  • No, Final Report is not OK. Public Health sends Revision Request Letter to contractor.

King County Records, including information on Notice and Orders and Releases, can be accessed online.

In addition, sites involved in illegal drug lab activity often have other problems that need to be addressed. The local building Department may be involved because of issues such as abandoned vehicles and structural deficiencies. If chemicals from the lab were disposed of on the property or there was other activity that may have contaminated the soil or groundwater, Washington State Department of Ecology may also be involved. The various agencies work together to address problems at these sites.

Tips for landlords, property owners, motel managers and owners to help prevent illegal drug labs on your property.

Check the status of an illegal drug lab clean-up
  • Download an updated list of cleanup sites in King County (PDF; updated every last Friday of the month)

  • Use iMAP to locate known illegal drug labs within a geographic area

    To use iMAP:
    • Press on the Launch button on upper left corner of the page.
    • Type an address in the search bar and select the desired property from the drop-down menu, or zoom in to an area of interest.
    • Click the Layer List icon on the upper right and select "Illegal drug lab properties" from the drop-down menu.

    Contaminated drug lab properties will be red, properties that are in the process of being decontaminated will be blue and properties that have been decontaminated and released for occupancy will be green.

Contact us

If you have a questions about the decontamination status of a known illegal drug lab in King County, WA, please use our online form and include the property address, your email address and/or your phone number. Our staff will look up the property information in our database and respond to you directly.

Illegal meth lab activity should be reported by dialing 9-1-1.

External links