Contamination from illegal drug manufacture, processing and storage – a clandestine, criminal, cottage industry
Derelict, abandoned and underused buildings may be put to illegal uses, including the manufacture or processing of recreational drugs. The very nature of such activities poses challenges to those carrying out site walkovers and advising on the need for and scope of remediation if the sites are to be redeveloped, converted or sold.
The manufacture of synthetic chemicals or processing of for use as recreational drugs can result in contamination of soil and groundwater with chemicals that are not routinely considered in the investigation of potentially contaminated land.
The immediate responders – mainly the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) in the UK – are most at risk. The risk posed by illicit drug laboratories, particularly ‘methamphetamine’, is increasing within the UK. There are many examples from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand of emergency service first responders being killed by hazards associated with illicit drug laboratories.
Illicit laboratories may have engaged in extraction, conversion and/or synthesis processes. The materials involved as feedstock, products and associated wastes are hazardous. In some cases involving flammable solvents, accidental explosions and fires have resulted in fatalities as well as wider dispersion of contaminants.
Illicit drug laboratories may be identified or at least suspected from tell tale signs, odours and behaviour of occupants. Staff engaged in due diligence, pre -acquisition and phase 1 investigations may encounter such labs unexpectedly prior to entering a building. Inside the premises, drug production hardware, raw ingredient, final product and waste materials may be stored as liquids or solids or in the case of waste or accidental spills be strewn across the floor or find their way into drains.
Such accidental discovery should result in walkover personnel leaving the vicinity and informing the emergency services – both police and FRS. This not only ensures personal safety but also reduces the risk of compromising evidence at what may become a crime scene. Dealing successfully with such, very rare, discovery depends on the training and awareness of relevant staff.
As part of our continued commitment to raising standards among practitioners and regulators, LQM’s next Professional Practice Webinar, delivered by Paul Nathanail, will deal with the range of hazards involved in illicit drug laboratories, current, albeit limited, UK guidance and guidance from elsewhere where soil and groundwater contamination has received greater attention.
You can find out more and book a place by visiting https://www.lqm.co.uk/webinars/ccweb/