How to Handle Mobile Meth Labs

Meth, or methamphetamine, is nothing new to law enforcement. Its ease of manufacturing and widespread popularity has seen it spread from the more metropolitan venues to rural, secluded jurisdictions. Additionally, possibly sparked by the popularity of the television series “Breaking Bad,” many of these would-be meth dealers have decided to become mobile. At one time, authorities could joke about finding the next meth lab by “waiting for the trailer to blow up.” Now, that trailer has become a sedan, van or even an RV, traveling the highways or parked at the local high school. All of this presents a new level of threat that every officer and first responder needs to be prepared for.

Because of the volatile nature of meth production and the possibility that a mobile lab could literally be found anywhere, ALL first responders need to be aware of the warning signs of a potential lab as well as the basic safety measures necessary when approaching one.

  1. Danger! Danger! – The process of cooking meth involves a poisonous, flammable and explosive combination of chemicals. As soon as you think you may have encountered a potential lab you must take care to prevent injury. In most jurisdictions, this would involve calling on a specially trained and equipped response unit.
  2. Let your senses work for you – The cooking process is known for producing an irritating fume cloud accompanied by a strong odor capable of burning the eyes, throat and lungs. If you notice any of these symptoms you should back off and reassess what you are walking into.
  3. Meth SideKitchen ware – A telltale sign of a mobile meth lab is the presence of commonly used cooking equipment. This can include ice coolers or old propane tanks, plastic bottles, Coleman fuel, lithium batteries, kitty litter, ether, matches, and water – all items which are innocent enough when used for their intended purpose but deadly when combined. If you encounter a traveler with an unusual combination or large amount of any of these items, you should be immediately suspicious. Pseudoephedrine tablets are a primary ingredient and are tightly controlled by most pharmacies and drug stores; its presence is always a red flag.
  4. Litter bugs – By their very nature, mobile labs are generally not stationary for extended periods of time, however, many cookers have been known to frequent the same general area repeatedly. Although you may not encounter the lab itself, it is likely that you will observe the remnants they have left behind. Once used, much of the cook wear becomes both unusable and equally toxic. Locating dump sites containing unusual combinations of the previously mentioned ingredients should alert you to the possibility of cookers in the area. Remember, this trash must also be treated as not only a potential crime scene, but also a health hazard. Proper clean up requires a trained Haz-Mat crew.

Safe handling of potential meth labs requires much more information and training than I can present in a single article. For additional information you should contact your local Haz-Mat response team, which is most likely specifically trained in meth clean up. Departments who do not have access to a Haz-Mat team should contact the Environmental Protection Agency, which is required to provide training when necessary and must also maintain a list of qualified Haz-Mat companies.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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