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Inhaling cannabis dust cited in death of Trulieve worker

Oct 4, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
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‘The employee could not breathe and was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust’

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A woman who ground cannabis flower and packaged pre-rolls is believed to have died from exposure to cannabis dust, according to an accident investigation report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

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The deadly exposure involved a worker at a Trulieve Holyoke Holdings LLC. production facility in Massachusetts who reported being unable to breathe because of cannabis kief (dust) at about 11 p.m. on Jan. 7. Weedmaps defines kief as “the accumulated trichomes, or resin glands, sifted from cannabis flowers through a mesh screen or sieve.”

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OSHA notes in its report, “An employee was grinding cannabis flowers, and packaging ground cannabis in pre-rolls. The employee could not breathe and was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust.”

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According to Leafly, the woman was transported to a nearby hospital but succumbed to her injuries a short time later. Citing online reports, the woman was identified as being 27 years old and her obituary notes she recently began working at the cannabis facility. Marijuana Business Daily notes it confirmed the identity of the employee with the company.

Although the deadly exposure occurred almost 10 months ago, the contents of the accident report just recently surfaced in the media following being discussed in the podcast, The Young Jurks.

A study published two years ago, this time involving a facility that processed industrial hemp in Australia, reports that exposure to related dust hemp dust has been shown to produce “reactive and respiratory health effects, potentially causing permanent lung disease or damage.”

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Authors note that personal sampling was done in the breathing zone of exposed workers, as well as taking static samples, to determine exposure to respirable dust. Both types of sampling showed that respirable dust concentrations, at about three milligrams/cubic metre, exceeded the limit of 1 mg/m3 recommended by the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.

“The results of the investigation indicate that workers in the hemp processing industry are at risk of developing permanent and disabling respiratory disease due to high dust exposure,” the study concluded.

Another study from 2022 noted that the health effects of cannabis cultivation facilities “are mostly related to odor annoyance or occupational hazards,” and suggested further studies, including with regards to “an emissions database by strain and stage of life (growing cycle).”

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Information from Washington State Department of Labor & Industries notes that legal industrial-scale cannabis processing “has highlighted a connection between plant dust inhalation and a risk for work-related breathing problems.” Common examples of “allergic reactions include asthma, rash and a few case reports of anaphylactic shock,” it states.

Although OSHA does note mention anaphylactic shock, the Mayo Clinic points out that “anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction” and can “occur within seconds or minutes of exposure.”

Signs and symptoms of the condition include a rapid, weak pulse, a skin rash and nausea and vomiting. “If anaphylaxis isn’t treated right away, it can be fatal.”

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According to Aeroqual, OSHA defines respirable dust in general as “being no larger than four microns in diameter.” The information adds that “particles on the finer end of the respirable dust scale can cause inflammation of the heart, raising the probability of heart disease or a potentially fatal attack down the line,” notes the company, which conducts air quality testing.

A regulatory amendment to the Canada Labour Code — published in the Canada Gazette, Part I in 2017 — looked at grain and flour dust. For the former, “it has been found that, at dust concentrations of 4 mg/m3 and below, the risks to eyes, skin, and upper respiratory function would be minimized.” For the latter, the current standard of 0.5 mg/m3 “is impracticable, as it would require employees to wear respiratory protective equipment at all times during their entire work shifts.”

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A study out of Washington State considered occupational exposure to particulate matter and volatile organic compounds in two indoor cannabis production facilities. “Overall, we observed that exposures to respiratory hazards were highest in task zones where cannabis plants and material were manipulated by workers, including the trim, pre-roll, and the grow task areas.”

While the OSHA report is scant on exposure-related details (it is an open case and particulars are subject to change), it does note that Trulieve was cited for three serious health and safety violations at the end of June. A total penalty of US$35,219 has been proposed — one for US$6,215 and two for US$14,502 each —   although it appears that these are being contested.

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A 2021 press release from multi-state cannabis operator Trulieve notes the company’s Holyoke facility “allows for over 60,000 square feet of canopy, as defined under Massachusetts regulations, and 18,000 square feet of processing.”

Trulieve’s website states that its mission “is to provide compassionate care patients can trust when traditional medicine is not enough.” The company further notes “our plants are hand-grown in a facility with a controlled environment specially designed to reduce unwanted chemicals and pests, keeping the process as natural as possible at every turn.”

In its response from Trulieve, MJBiz reports that personal protective equipment was available on site and that OSHA’s air sampling showed concentrations “well below acceptable ranges.”

Per a report by Shoestring, the company settled a health and safety case in Pennsylvania after being cited for violating rules requiring a report for in-patient hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.

Additionally, in 2019, the company was cited for violating respiratory protection and hazard communication requirements at a cultivation facility in Florida, the publication reports.

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