The mountains and valleys of West Virginia. Photo taken from the observation tower at Pipestem State Park.
Great Seal of West Virginia.
Ariel view of Meadowfill Landfill, Harrison County. Earth Day, WV State Capitol, 2006 Electronics collection/recycling event, Home Depot, Teays Valley, WV. The Raleigh County SWA Recycling Center.

Solid Waste Management Board Administration

West Virginia's Latest Environmental Hazard

Methamphetamine Labs

The manufacture of methamphetamine constitutes a serious and growing environmental problem for West Virginia. These illegal drugs are manufactured out of easily obtainable materials with only the most basic equipment and require little to no training or knowledge of the basic chemistry needed for these processes.  Methamphetamine is manufactured out of a hodgepodge of ingredients employing different techniques for blending the chemicals. No two batches are exactly the same.


According to the National Drug Intelligence Digest, "Independent traffickers manufacturing methamphetamine in clandestine home or mobile labs may expose children to abuse, injury and death from hazardous chemicals and laboratory explosions. Medical authorities report the toxic chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine can cause burns and harm the brain, liver, kidneys, lungs and eyes. Children exposed to these toxins can exhibit aggression, violence, paranoia and hallucinations. They may also develop learning disabilities and behavioral problems."


Methamphetamine labs pose threats of fire and explosion, inhalation of hazardous substances, chemical burns and other immediate risks from direct contact. This applies not only when the lab is in the actual production process but also through the haphazard storage of incompatible chemicals and the indiscriminate disposal of chemical waste. Methamphetamine labs can be set up just about anywhere - in private homes, motels, apartments, trailers, houseboats, farms, vehicles or anywhere else out of the weather and out of sight. 


According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, clandestine methamphetamine laboratory activity in West Virginia, which had been very high, decreased as a result of state and Federal laws regulating the sale of precursors. However, changes in the meth manufacture process have the potential to reverse these gains. The following graph was produced with information from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA.)



There are several ways to make meth. The traditional method required a lot of material, tools and  hundreds of pseudoephedrine pills. These labs were often reported to law enforcement because of a strong odor and the significant amounts of solid waste produced.


The current method is called the "Shake and Bake" or the "One Pot" method. Other methods take up to two days to complete a single batch, the new process requires only about 45 minutes. The older methods usually require a stationary lab, the new method can work anywhere, in a motel room, even in the back seat of a moving vehicle. The Shake and Bake method also takes fewer pseudoephedrine pills helping meth makers circumvent recent legislation limiting the availability of Sudafed and other drugs containing pseudoephedrine.


Most important of all, the new process is a lot more dangerous. If the old labs caught on fire, the cookers could just run away. With the Shake and Bake process, many times they are holding the container when it explodes. Shake and Bake involves creating several chemical reactions, usually inside a two liter soda bottle. According to the WV DEP, "Shake and Bake is extremely dangerous. If the bottle is shaken the wrong way, if any oxygen gets inside of it or if the cap is loosened too quickly, the bottle can explode into a giant fireball. The growing use of the one-pot method increases the danger to law enforcement and civilians from explosion, fires and exposure fo dangerous chemicals."


Meth lab waste is becoming an increasing hazard on our roads and highways since meth makers often throw waste products out the window. According the WV DEP, meth waste is "often found in plastic grocery bags that have been tied shut and thrown on the side of the road. Opening the bags can result in burns, blindness and/or serious health problems. They can even explode." 


If you suspect someone is operating a methamphetamine lab in your neighborhood or anywhere else, do not go near it - call the police. Once the lab is shut down, the officer in charge should notify the WV DEP Hazardous Emergency Responce Hotline at  (800) 642-3074.

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West Virginia Solid Waste Management Board
601 57th Street, SE
Charleston, WV  25304
Phone: 304-926-0448
Toll Free: 866-568-6649
Fax: 304-926-0472