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Clandestine Laboratories

The Department of Public Safety's has specially trained law enforcement officers from the Division of Narcotics Enforcement, the Iowa State Patrol, and the State Fire Marshal's Office, as well as chemists from the Division of Criminal Investigation. These officers provide assistance to city and county law enforcement throughout the state of Iowa. All of our officers are certified in the investigating, dismantling, and removing of clandestine laboratories.

Chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of narcotics present both environmental and explosive hazards to citizens and property in the state of Iowa. The clandestine laboratory team provides safe and environmentally sound disposal of these chemicals.

Clandestine Laboratory Seizures by the Department of Public Safety

Year Labs Seized by DPS
1997 63
1998 320
1999 500
2000 391
2001 511
2002 709
2003 682
2004 630
2005 345
2006 116
2007 42
2008 72
2009 87
2010 64
2011 56
2012 70
2013 51
2014 27*

*Year to date

The above table is for labs that the Department of Public Safety have been involved with.

The combined total of clandestine laboratories seized by state, local and county departments for 2013 is 290. In addition to the clandestine labatory totals, there were 36 children affected by these labs.

The reduction of methamphetamine laboratories can be directly contributed to the pseudoephedrine law that was put in effect in 2005. With this legislation we have been able to turn our attention to the importation of methamphetamine and other controlled substances.

Year Labs Seized by Local Agencies
2003 497
2004 842
2005 415
2006 229
2007 132
2008 129
2009 176
2010 241
2011 356
2012 312
2013 239
2014 *102

*Year to date

State of Iowa clandestine laboratory maps.

Warning Signs of Living Near a Lab

  • Strong odor of solvents
  • Residences with windows blacked out
  • Smell of anhydrous ammonia
  • Iodine or chemical stained bathroom or kitchen fixtures
  • Smell of starting fluid - ether
  • Renters who pay their landlords in cash
  • Rubber or plastic tubing
  • Increased activity, especially at night
  • Excessive trash

Common Meth Lab Supplies

  • Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine tablets
  • Plastic tubing
  • Mason jars
  • Propane tanks (sometimes spray-painted or burned, with bent or tampered valves)
  • Camp stove fuel
  • Empty pill bottles
  • Empty cans of toluene, alcohol or paint thinner
  • Anhydrous ammonia
  • Starter fluid (ether)
  • Glass containers
  • Coffee filters with red stains
  • Funnels
  • Rock salt, iodine
  • Lithium batteries
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Red Devil Lye or Drano

The most common chemicals used to start the meth-making process are over-the-counter cold and asthma medications. Typical brands include Sudafed, Revive and Mini-thins, which contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as decongestants or stimulants.

How to Recognize a Meth Lab

Meth labs may be set up at campgrounds, rest areas, rental homes, motel rooms, abandoned cars, garages, storage sheds, barns and vacant buildings.

A typical meth lab is a collection of chemical bottles, hoses and pressurized cylinders. The cylinders can take many forms, from modified propane tanks to fire extinguishers, scuba tanks and soda dispensers. The tanks contain anhydrous ammonia or hydrochloric acid—both highly poisonous and corrosive.

Labs are frequently abandoned and the potentially explosive and very toxic chemicals are left behind. Chemicals may also be burned or dumped in woods or along roads.

If You Suspect a Meth Lab....

Do not enter a site that you think may be used for cooking meth. Labs present extreme dangers from explosions and exposure to hazardous chemicals. Breathing the fumes and handling substances can cause injury and even death.

Drug labs are considered hazardous waste sites and should only be entered by trained and equipped professionals.

Never handle materials you suspect were used for making meth, such as contaminated glassware and needles. Skin contact can result in burns or poisoning. Handling items can also cause some of the chemicals to explode on contact with water or air.

Consider that when professionals respond to a drug lab, they do not enter the building until they have put on chemically resistant suits and boots, special gloves and respirators.

If you suspect a methamphetamine lab in your area contact your local law enforcement agency immediately.

Guidelines for Cleaning up Former Methamphetamine Labs

The Iowa Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health, has a resource to assist you in finding out if your property was a site for an illegal methamphetamine laboratory, concerns associated with these hazards, health effects and general guidelines in removing contaminates. This document is in an Adobe PDF file. Click on the link and download the file.

Guidelines for Cleaning up Former Methamphetamine Laboratories (PDF)

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