skip to main content

Public Health - Seattle & King County

Illegal drug lab cleanups

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

What are the 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.

What is Public Health's role?
First responders removing chemicals from a meth lab.
First responders removing chemicals from a meth lab
In King County, Public Health - Seattle & King County is contacted by law enforcement officials regarding illegal drug labs. Public Health has the following responsibilities in responding:
  • posting warnings
  • informing the public of hazards
  • assessing the extent of the contamination at the lab sites once the bulk of lab-related materials are removed
  • overseeing decontamination and determining when a structure can safely be reoccupied
  • assuring that clean up contractors properly handle and dispose of wastes generated during the cleanup process.

Additionally, Public Health responds to a number of contaminated chemical dumpsites that are created when chemicals from illegal drug labs are improperly disposed.

The Illegal Drug Lab Response will help you to understand the process which Public Health follows.

This sign is posted when Public Health is first notified of meth lab activity. This sign is posted when Public Health is first notified of illegal drug lab activity.

In evaluating a property, Public Health determines whether a site is contaminated and unfit for use. Properties that are determined to be contaminated are posted to prohibit occupancy. A Notice and Order to this effect is recorded for the property through the King County Recorder's Office, Records and Elections Division. Contaminated properties must be decontaminated by a state certified drug lab decontamination contractor following Public Health requirements before the property can be reoccupied.

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

This sign is posted after a meth lab has been found unfit for use.This sign is posted after an illegal drug lab has been found unfit to occupy.

After the work has been completed satisfactorily, Public Health files a Release with the King County Recorder's Office and the property can be reoccupied.

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

Possible contamination of the soil and groundwater at this meth lab dumpsite.
Possible contamination of the soil and groundwater at this meth lab dumpsite.
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.The number of illegal drug labs producing methamphetamine has increased dramatically in recent years. The Washington State Department of Ecology responses to drug labs and drug lab dumpsites increased from 60 in 1995 to 1,449 in 2000. The responses in King County for the same time period went from 10 to 231, with the number doubling for each of the last four years. Public Health - Seattle & King County has seen a similar growth in responses to drug labs during this time, from less than 10 in 1995 to more than 70 in 2000. Public Health also responded to an additional 20-30 mobile labs and dumpsites in 2000. During 2001-2004, Public Health responded to over 100 labs and dumpsites each year.
How to check the status of an illegal drug lab cleanup
  • 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:

    1. Press on the Start iMAP button.
    2. Select a property or zoom in to an area of interest.
    3. Check and highlight "Illegal Drug Lab Properties" under the "Property Layers" section on the right.

    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. Selecting a specific parcel using the information sign on the left side of the screen information icon under "Tools" will allow you to view detail regarding the progress of work on the selected site.

    To return to this page, press on the blue blue information icon information icon next to Illegal Drug Lab Properties on the right.

Contact us to inquire about the decontamination status of known illegal drug labs

If you have a questions about the decontamination status of a known illegal drug lab in King County, WA, please email us with 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