Assessing presence and level of toxic chemicals associated with clandestine methamphetamine synthesis

Russell Fuller, Jackie Wright, Kirstin Ross, Stewart Walker

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The growth in clandestine drug synthesis requires the application of analytical chemical methods to determine not only the presence and concentration of the drugs but also of by-products and precursors that may also be harmful. We present an overview of our multi-disciplinary research including determining 1) the detection of by-products of methamphetamine synthesis in wastewaters, 2) the extent of contamination of public places (such as public toilets) and 3) the extent of contamination in materials present in clandestine laboratories during synthesis and 4) transferred to material brought in after synthesis had ceased. Previous studies analyzed the presence of methamphetamine in wastewater as an indicator of the amount being flushed down toilets, other studies measured metabolites to indicate amount of use. In our study by-products of methamphetamine were analyzed in wastewater to indicate the amount of synthesis taking place in geographic areas. The places of drug use (holiday venues, nightclubs etc.) may not be the same as places of synthesis and so detecting presence of by-products could indicate where the drugs were being synthesized. This included stability studies to show whether the chemicals would be stable enough to survive the conditions of the wastewater from source through the sewage system. The potential for areas of public access to be used for smoking methamphetamine may lead to contamination and exposure for subsequent users from air or by touching surfaces. Presumptive testing of swabs from public toilets such as Exeloos (self-contained, self-cleaning) must be treated with caution as other chemicals (such as urea) may cause false positives. Another area of interest is in houses that have been contaminated due to smoking or synthesis (or both) of methamphetamine and the subsequent exposure of innocent inhabitants. Our case studies have shown that methamphetamine contamination can be found after many years in material that was present during synthesis and also in materials (household furnishings, bedding and soft toys) that are brought in years after the synthesis has stopped. Our findings raise questions about the real level of exposure of members of the public visiting places where methamphetamine has been smoked, and of innocent inhabitants of ex-clan laboratories and raises doubts about the effectiveness of current swabbing techniques where only swabs of 10x10 cm areas of walls or other internal materials/fixtures are considered.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020
EventAmerican Chemical Society National Fall Meeting August 2020 - Virtual, United States
Duration: 17 Aug 202020 Aug 2020


ConferenceAmerican Chemical Society National Fall Meeting August 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • methamphetamine
  • contamination
  • 3rd-hand exposure
  • Clandestine synthesis
  • toxic chemicals


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