ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Environmental contamination- Assessing the occupational exposure of NSW police to illicit drugs in the workplace (2014-2017)


NSW Police Force, $94,600


Dr Greg Doran, (Graham Centre), & Dr Julia Howitt


Officers in the New South Wales Police Force are exposed to drugs and other chemicals during the course of their duties through direct contact with materials during search and seizure or arrests, handling of stored exhibits and exposure to contaminated surfaces or air.

Drs Howitt and DoranThis project considered the extent of exposure by sampling workspaces for drug residues and considering the concentrations found on skin and in urine and hair provided by volunteer officers. A suite of 23 licit and illicit drugs and metabolites were considered including opiates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cocaine, ketamine and cannabis.

Six city Local Area Commands and five regional Local Area Commands (LACs) were each sampled on three occasions and the results were compared to four community 'baseline' sites. Sampling consisted of alcohol swabbing of potentially contaminated surfaces such as counters, desks, computers, safes and vehicles and the collection of air samples from safes and large drug stores.

In addition, sampling targeted a number of higher risk activities where larger volumes of drugs may be encountered such as drug destruction, raids at hydroponic cannabis houses and three week-long operations as part of the Cannabis Eradication Program.

(Image Dr Greg Doran and Dr Julia Howitt)

The researchers found that, while the results for the vast majority of samples was down in the area of what was normal for police stations, they found out valuable information about the areas of the stations most likely to be contaminated.

Recommendations about how to change procedures to reduce the risk of exposure for officers include:

  • special types of cleaning that may be required in different areas of the station.
  • as a result of a study on drug residues and persistence on different surface types, the types of materials NSW Police should consider using on counter tops etc. when doing renovations and building new stations.
  • ways to ensure that the areas that are likely to be contaminated are kept to a minimum to minimise cross-contamination between different areas


Doran, G. & Howitt, J. (2016) Environmental contamination: assessing the occupational exposure of NSW Police to illicit drugs in the workplace. Final report. Prepared for NSW Police Force.

Howitt, J., Doran, G., Deans, R., De Filippis, C., & Kostakis, C. (2016) Occupational exposure of police officers to illicit drugs- comparing exposure to the outcomes of hair and urine testing. Presented at the International Association of Forensic Toxicologists and the Society of Hair Testing Conference, Aug 28 to Sept 1, Brisbane.


The work from this study has provided recommendations for procedural changes to decrease the likelihood of accumulation of drugs on work surfaces and in the air, and hence, exposure to police officers. These changes may include how seized drugs are handled, stored and transported to minimise the risk of exposure.


Dr Julia Howitt Email

Wagga Wagga Campus