Meth lab waste may present dangers to outdoor enthusiasts

The camping and outdoor season has started and it brings with it the increased chance that someone will come across the remains of a methamphetamine lab.

Waste from meth drug labs has been found at highway rest areas, state and national parks, campgrounds and recreational lands across the country because getting rid of meth-lab waste, in most cases, separates the cooks from criminal evidence that could land them in jail.

"Unfortunately, this waste creates a risk for law-abiding citizens who are just trying to get away and enjoy some good, clean fun," said David Byers, who supervises spill and haz-mat response for the Department of Ecology (DOE).

Byers said hikers, campers, picnickers, fishermen and others should be on the lookout for suspicious products left over from meth labs. These include propane tanks or other pressurized cylinders, strong ammonia odors, starter-fluid spray cans, shredded lithium batteries, Red Devil Lye (drain cleaner), muriatic or hydrochloric acid, empty cold-medicine packages or containers, plastic tubing, glass jars, funnels, coffee filters, hypodermic needles and containers of acetone, toluene and Coleman Fuel.

The used propane tanks are often corroded and have jury-rigged valves and tubing that can fail, spraying ammonia or hydrogen-chloride gas that attacks eyes and lungs. The DOE has found fire extinguishers, scuba tanks, soda dispensers and all sizes of pressurized cylinders used in producing meth.

"It's becoming harder to operate meth labs in cities without getting caught, so many meth cooks have moved into rural areas where they're not as easily detected," Byers said.

More than 500 drug labs and dump sites have been reported already this year, and the discovery rate tends to increase in the spring and summer months. People may inadvertently stumble across active or abandon meth labs while out enjoying the warmer weather.

Meth waste is toxic to people and the environment, and getting rid of a meth lab is dangerous and expensive. In addition, some meth waste can be flammable, which could present another problem for parks and forests if there is another dry summer.

Anyone who comes across an active or deserted meth-lab site should leave the area immediately and contact the local police or sheriff's department.

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