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For every pound of Meth produced, approximately five pounds of toxic waste is generated. This waste may include corrosive liquids, acid vapors, heavy metals, solvents, and other harmful materials. Because of the illicit nature of Meth production, waste is often dumped haphazardly, contaminating watersheds used by humans and animals. When Meth is being cooked in a lab, the vapors produced permeate every porous surface in the building, often making them uninhabitable. These vapors can also be highly volatile, sometimes leading to explosions that can severely burn or kill those nearby.

To avoid detection, those cooking Meth will often use mobile labs that can be set up outdoors. In recent years, abandoned labs have been discovered at trailheads and fishing accesses, jeopardizing our access to public lands and endangering wildlife. Meth-contaminated waste is commonly found along roadsides.

The toxic nature of these sites requires specialized clean-up techniques. These costs frequently run thousands of dollars per incident, requiring funds that come out of the already-tight budgets of local law enforcement or property owners.


The scenic beauty of the Ocala National Forest's 400,000 acres of wilderness draws nearly 3 million visitors a year, making it one of the most-visited national forests east of the Mississippi. But the quiet scrub brush and pine also hides an ugly secret. The forest is also home to drug dealers, stabbings and gangs of squatters who run off, threaten and harm anyone who gets in their way.

The WESH 2 I-Team went on night patrol with forest rangers in areas considered so dangerous, even adventurous campers stay away. Forest district ranger Rick Lint said people don't feel secure or safe here. He said rangers have found people cooking methamphetamine in their campers or by the campfire. In the past year, the US Forest Service has discovered 20 meth labs in the Ocala National Forest. At least two of those labs blew up into balls of flames. One of those meth labs blew up at the campground at Lake Dorr.Forest rangers said the forest has become the Wild West of the new millennium. Even in broad daylight, the I-Team stumbled upon a naked man riding his bike out the woods. Ranger said he's been a problem for years. He called himself Jahlee. He wrote that he has taken a vow of silence to God, and that he's been living in the forest for four years. Rangers believe at least 300 squatters like Jahlee live in the forest year-round. The I-Team came across another man who said he's been living in the forest off and on for the past seven years. Many people living in the forest live under a different set of laws -- laws enforced by gangs of squatters who have taken up residence in the woods. Rangers said one brazen squatter declared himself mayor of the wilderness area Buck Lake. When another squatter threatened a group of Boy Scouts with a knife, rangers said they had to shut the entire area down. "A group has developed almost like a gang controlling an area in a city, where people know that they can't go because they control that," Lint said. "I came in here and said that's not acceptable. This is a national forest." No one the I-Team met admitted being tied to any gangs, but they did admit to being squatters. They work as day laborers in Tavares, Eustis and Ocala earning between $50 and $150 a day. The I-Team spoke to a camper who knows about the gangs firsthand. She fears for her own life, fled her campsite and asked us not to identify her. "I've met a 450-pound bear one night which scared me less than these people," she said. She's witnessed beatings, rapes and stabbings by members of squatter gangs. "They make up their own rules. They tied one guy to a tree using duct tape because he didn't live up to their code. I'm not sure what that code is. I think they make it up as they go along," she said. That's why the Forest Service has begun cracking down, making more arrests, writing more tickets, stiffening the rules that say who can stay in the woods and reducing the time campers can stay to only two weeks before having to leave. "We're dealing with same problems as a city cop, like in Orlando would. The only difference, we're more spread out," Forest Service law enforcement officer Chris Crain said. With only two forest rangers patrolling 400,000 acres, it's going to take a very long time to get this Wild West back under control.

Environmental health hazards of clandestine methamphetamine production for the rural community population


Carolyn H. Robinson, PhD, MPH, RN, College of Nursing, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, 1200 Volunteer Boulevard, Knoxville, TN 37996, and Kevin G. Robinson, PhD, MSPH, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, 219A Perkins Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996.

Methamphetamine residues and the chemical wastes generated during its production are emerging as significant sources of environmental contamination in the United States. The exponential increase in the number of illegal laboratories seized (3,811 in 1998, 15,994 in 2004), emphasizes the risk of contamination and resulting health threat; however, very little is currently known about the fate of meth wastes in the environment. Upon cooking, hazardous airborne products are generated that can contaminate building interiors, thereby posing a risk to anyone who subsequently enters the lab site. Additionally, liquid waste is generated and indiscriminately dumped onto the ground in rural areas, where the hazardous chemicals can leach into the soil and migrate into groundwater supplies. Additional concerns have been expressed about possible contamination of the food supply based on the discovery of a meth lab at the bottom of a temporarily empty grain bin in Illinois. A multiple year study has recently been initiated in our laboratory that involves (a) synthesis of meth from Sudafed and generation of airborne and liquid residual waste mixtures, (b) assessment of airborne interactions with various materials typically found in structures used for meth cooks, (c) quantification of geochemical and biological rates controlling the mobility of meth-containing liquid wastes in groundwater (d) development of a methodology to estimate health risks due to meth exposure via relevant pathways and (e) dissemination of the health-related and environmental exposure research findings through a training program. Preliminary results of the project will be analyzed and presented at this conference.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the session, the participant in this session will be able to

  • Discuss the environmental health hazards associated with clandestine methamphetamine production for the rural population.
  • Assess why the rural community population is particularly at risk for environmental exposure.
  • Evaluate the different pathways that, upon cooking meth, contaminants may enter the environment.






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