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How to avoid buying a former meth lab

Toluene. Acetone. Sulfuric acid. Anhydrous ammonia. If you found these products in a science lab, they'd be carefully stored and marked with hazardous material warnings. But these are the same chemicals used to make crystal meth, and drug dealers don't pay much attention to caution signs.

Clandestine drug labs can be found anywhere from industrial warehouses to the back of a car. The ease of acquiring ingredients and a 95 percent addiction rate for first-time users makes the production of crystal meth a profitable business venture for an enterprising dealer.

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But whether you call it ice, crystal or crank, methamphetamine is not only devastating to the person who uses it. Making crystal meth can turn any house, outbuilding or vehicle into a hazardous wasteland.

"The best form of remediation for a crystal meth lab is a bulldozer," says Dave Clarke, a clandestine drug lab trainer and full-time firefighter in Mississauga, Ont. "When police are hauling the stuff out of there, it's toxic waste. It's hazardous materials and it has to be treated as such."

Meth labs can be deadly
Crystal meth is made by "cooking" pseudoephedrine (found in cold medications) with a variety of household chemicals, such as paint thinner and antifreeze. Some are highly volatile and may ignite or explode if mixed or stored improperly.

"These drugs are produced in make-shift laboratories hidden in our neighbourhoods and pose a serious threat to the safety of both the public and emergency first responders such as police, fire and ambulance workers," says Supt. Richard Sauve, Drug Branch Director at the RCMP. "This is a serious problem as drug 'cooks,' who are not trained chemists, do not respect the dangers associated with toxic chemicals. This can lead to tragic consequences such as fire, explosion and environmental pollution."

Neighbours of a Mississauga, Ont., townhouse witnessed these dangers first-hand in 2006 when a meth lab explosion destroyed the residence and caused the evacuation of eight nearby homes.

It could have been much worse. During the raid of a 200-square-metre super lab in Edmonton in 2002, officers discovered 60 litres of highly flammable ether -- enough to level six city blocks.

Even short-term exposure to toxic chemicals such as phosphine gas, hydrogen chloride or benzene (a known carcinogen), which are produced during the cooking process, is enough to cause dizziness, nausea, respiratory problems and chemical burns.

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-- Posted: Sept. 29, 2008
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