An analysis of the costs of dismantling and cleaning up synthetic drug production sites in Belgium and the Netherlands

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The production of synthetic drugs, in terms of the number of manufacturing laboratories that have been discovered and the quantity of drugs seized, shows an increasing trend (EMCDDA & EUROPOL, 2016a; EMCDDA & EUROPOL, 2011). In the Netherlands, Schoenmakers and Mehlbaum (2017) recorded an increase in the dumping of toxic waste from synthetic drugs manufacture, from 35 in 2010 to 177 dumping sites in 2016. Boerman et al. (2017) reported an increase in the number of synthetic drug laboratories (= production sites) identified, from 30 in 2012 to 59 in 2016. Furthermore, the European Reporting Instrument on Sites related to Synthetic Production (ERISSP) database (Van den Besselaar & van Grootel, 2017) identified 61 labs, 84 storage sites and 177 dumping sites in the Netherlands for 2016 (N = 322).

In Belgium, the number of synthetic drug related sites identified between 2002 and 2015 increased dramatically from 8 to 22, which is almost triple (Clanlab Response Unit, 2017a; 2017b). In recent years, however, there has been a more stable trend. In 2015 a total of 15 labs, 6 storage sites and 15 dumping sites (N = 36) were identified, and this remained relatively stable in 2016 with 10 labs, 6 storage sites and 26 dumping sites (N = 42) identified.

Synthetic drugs are produced using a variety of production techniques, involving a range of different chemical precursor substances (EMCCDA & EUROPOL, 2016). These techniques may involve the use of additional chemicals and processes that are inherently dangerous. Furthermore, the waste generated by the production process is often disposed of unsafely, causing environmental harm and risks to public health and safety. It is estimated that the production of 1 kilogram of MDMA (ecstasy) or amphetamine (speed) results in many more kilograms of waste. These waste products have been dumped in forests and fields, left in abandoned premises, loaded into stolen vehicles and buried underground.

The northern part of Belgium and the southern part of the Netherlands are two regions in the European Union (EU) that are increasingly facing a synthetic drug production problem. This research focuses on Belgium (north) and the Netherlands (south) because they are seen as two of the most important suppliers of MDMA and amphetamine in the EU, and even when compared to the USA (De Middeleer & De Ruyver, 2017; POD Wetenschapsbeleid, 2008; Schoenmakers & Mehlbaum, 2017; EMCDDA & EUROPOL, 2016b; Soudijn & Vijlbrief, 2011; Van De Wiel, 2016; EUROPOL, 2017). The synthetic drug problem that these two countries face can be seen as a transnational problem (Boerman et al., 2017). A combined study of the two countries is therefore highly relevant for this exploratory research.

The number of production sites that have officially been recorded may only represent a small proportion of the actual number (KLPD – Dienst Nationale Recherche, 2012; Schoenmakers et al., 2016; Van De Wiel, 2016). This is a consequence of the illicit, underground context that goes hand in hand with synthetic drugs (waste) production (and dumping). This is even more the case with discharges of discarded waste, where the hazardous material fades away into the soil, watercourses or sewers, contaminating the environment often in an unseen way.

In addition to the enforcement cost that result from the illicit nature of synthetic drug production and chemical waste dumping, we can also distinguish several costs related to abandoned or active labs or lab residues (the chemicals and hardware used by the labs). The hazardous and toxic waste generated by synthetic drug production creates health risks and causes environmental damage, which necessitates costs for the clean-up and remediation of labs/dumping sites (EMCDDA & EUROPOL, 2016a). The clean-up, transport, storage, destruction and remediation of the materials present at a production/dumping site require the intervention of various services and actors, which all use specific materials and act in accordance with fixed procedures (e.g. providing round-the-clock security at the location).

The purpose of this study is to identify the cost categories linked with dismantling and cleaning up synthetic drug production sites. Once the cost categories have been established, the study proposes a robust methodology that enables the scope of these cost categories to be estimated. In order to do this we collected data from stakeholders active in the synthetic drugs field to: (1) identify the different cost categories; (2) collect the available data for Belgium and the Netherlands; (3) specify the missing links in these data that prevent us, at present, from calculating some costs categories; and (4) estimate the cost related to dismantling and cleaning up synthetic drug production and dumping/discharge sites in Belgium and the Netherlands.


Universiteit Gent, vakgroep Criminologie, Strafrecht en Sociaal Recht
Wim Hardyns

Algemene info


Startdatum 01/06/2017
Einddatum 30/11/2017


Secundaire dataanalyse



Gefinancierd door

Europese fondsen


Illegale drugs


Beleidsondersteunend en economisch onderzoek
Ontwikkeling van onderzoeksinstrumenten





Datum laatste wijziging: 08/08/2019
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