Police officers have arguably one of the most perilous occupations in the country. However, when we consider the dangers associated with this profession, our first thoughts typically turn to violence that has been known to happen during patrol, answering calls for assistance or taking down drug dealers. Still, the serious risks for officers are not limited to the threats of the field. Officers working indoors, particularly in drug vaults and evidence rooms, are exposed to totally different, but equally hazardous conditions.
While almost no one discusses these risks, the reality is that officers working behind the scenes are faced with health risks that those in the field do not encounter. Toxins such as chemicals fumes and particulates in the air are the cause of many illnesses that continue to plague individuals long after their initial encounter. However, the fumes and particles in the air are not the only issue; mold is one of the biggest problems.
How does mold get into these areas?
Intercepted drugs, stored in plastic evidence bags or containers, collect moisture and subsequently begin to grow mold. This group of molds that are known to cause significant health problems is known as Aspergillus. Able to grow on most any biological host, Aspergillus requires only minimal amounts of moisture to thrive. Thus seized marijuana, which even in a dried state may contain as much as 10-15{58e281ace639831ddb6d8687333e7c2b02e87c7c548a0119c43312a5ff3c7894} water, can promote an ideal environment for this toxic mold.
What are the long-term implications?
Through the handling evidence, spores are released into the air where they flow into the noses,, mouths and ears of law enforcement officers. This exposure can lead to cold and flu symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and stuffiness, skin problems, eye irritation and burning, and in some cases permanent damage to the lungs and respiratory system.
What can be done?
There are numerous ways to decrease the risk of exposure to the hazardous mold related to the seizure, documentation and disposal of drugs. Of course, one of the simplest solutions is to reduce the source of the mold. This can be achieved by more frequently disposing of drugs to reduce the amount of mold that grows in the first place. Another way to reduce the mold growth is by adding a drying chamber to drug vaults and drying plant-based drugs, such as marijuana, before they are put into storage containers. Additionally, seized prescription medications need to be properly sealed and stored in durable plastic garbage bags, to prevent them from ripping or tearing.
While the preferred method of storage is in plastic containers, some drugs are stored in glass containers. Though this might seem like a more secure way to store them, if the glass container breaks, the risk of exposure rises drastically. To combat this problem, glass containers should be wrapped in insulation, such as bubble wrap.
Mold needs a moist environment. Therefore, minimizing humidity will also minimize mold growth. Additionally, attention to the facility’s ventilation system can considerably decrease the hazard of exposure to toxic mold. A consultation with a ventilation engineer may be the most effective way to ensure that the ventilation system is doing the best job possible.
Finally, when they are transporting drugs to and from the police department, officers should use a lockable enclosure to store them. This will minimize accidental exposure to many potential hazards.