The sight is becoming more and more common, frequently playing out on the evening news – people clad in full-body protective suits heading into places where a meth lab has been discovered.
It’s necessary: “It’s important to clean it up properly because so many toxic chemicals are used in the preparation of methamphetamine and demolition of the site is not always possible or appropriate,” says West Virginia University researcher Suzanne Bell. “The danger to future occupants is chronic exposure to residuals of these hazardous compounds.”
It’s frequent: between 2003 and 2008 there were 621 methamphetamine incidents, including labs, dumpsites or chemical and glassware seizures in West Virginia, and 67,186 nationwide according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
But is all the work effective or, do dangerous particles remain in the air? If so, just painting and cleaning only covers up the problem temporarily.
Enter Bell, assistant professor of forensic and analytical chemistry in WVU’s C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry, who has received a $77,471 grant for “Characterization and Validation of Ion Mobility Spectrometry in Clandestine Laboratory Remediation.” The research is a joint grant effort with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Bell and her research group will investigate if the standard cleaning and purifying procedures used to clean homes and apartments that previously served as meth labs really work.
Bell and graduate students Rona Nishikawa, Lucy Oldfield, Travis Doria and Holly McCall, will simulate meth labs to gauge the effect of the chemicals used on living environments. They also hope to visit former labs to gather samples. Field sites provide the best research environment because it is impossible to simulate an entire meth lab in the academic laboratory.
Third year doctoral candidate and research team member Holly McCall knew she wanted to work with Dr. Bell when she applied to WVU.
“Her research is a non‑traditional application of analytical chemistry, which we base in forensic science, McCall said.
“Since the toxicity of methamphetamine in airborne particles remains unknown, the health of those personnel in charge of cleaning up clandestine labs and the future inhabitants of the location are at risk. It is our goal to determine whether these locations can be safely remediated, such that no further inhabitants will be harmed,” McCall said.
The findings of this research will have applications for all 50 states, as they deal with clean up of these dangerous, toxic drug labs.
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