Investigating clandestine drug laboratories: Adverse medical effects in law enforcement personnel

Jefferey L. Burgess, Scott Barnhart, Harvey Checkoway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


A retrospective cohort study was conducted among an international group of 46 law enforcement chemists and 13 Washington State clandestine drug laboratory investigation team members with more than 2,800 combined investigations. Each participant completed a questionnaire concerning previous drug laboratory investigations and adverse health effects during response activities. Methamphetamine laboratories accounted for 81-97% of all responses. Total illness incident rates varied between 0.75-3.4% of responses. Most exposures were through inhalation, and many occurred in the years prior to use of personal protective equipment. Symptoms were primarily those of headache and respiratory, mucous membrane, and skin irritation. Most illness episodes occurred during the processing phase of laboratory responses, and none occurred during the entry phase. A majority of illness episodes occurred in laboratories with leak/spills, fire/explosion, or uncontrolled reactions. Responding to an active laboratory was associated with a 7 to 15-fold risk of becoming ill as compared with setup, in-transit, or former (equipment removed) laboratory responses. No other laboratories characteristics were consistently associated with a significantly elevated relative risk of adverse health effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)488-494
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1996


  • illicit drugs
  • laboratories (clandestine)
  • methamphetamine
  • police work
  • respiratory protection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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