Illicit Drug Laboratories and the Environment

Monograph no. 35

Raktim Pal, Megharaj Mallavarapu, Ravi Naidu, Paul Kirkbride

The illicit manufacture of amphetamine-type substances in clandestine laboratories is a significant problem in Australia and overseas. Disposal of chemical waste from clandestine laboratories is more likely to involve practices that maintain secrecy rather than practices that protect the environment; inevitably some clandestine laboratories will dispose of waste by burial and that waste that is disposed of in domestic waste will end up in landfill. It has been estimated that approximately 5?6 pounds of waste is produced for each pound of methamphetamine produced (Lukas, 1997). Although the waste itself represents a direct environmental threat, soil is an active material that digests some chemicals and converts them into other chemicals, which themselves could also be a threat. Surprisingly, there has only been one investigation into what happens to drugs, their precursors, and manufacturing by-products when they are buried; therefore it is not yet known whether these chemicals represent an environmental threat or not. A critical task of the forensic clandestine laboratory investigator is to analyse residues of manufacture in order to gather evidence of illicit drug manufacture and evidence of the particular synthetic route used. The chemical make-up of residues that have been buried has not been investigated.