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Worries About Infrastructure A Top Priority For Cannabis Industry

By Roger Moleskin photo/istock/Jedraszak

 Few marijuana users spend a lot of time thinking about the finer points of cultivation. It would require delving into complex chemistry and biology, and at least a working knowledge of engineering. While there is no shortage of experts in those fields, their actual application in the latest state-of-the-art growing facilities is still relatively new, and it has been a bit of rough ride so far. There have been several accidents at greenhouses over the past year, and industry experts are concerned, according to the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) autumn meeting.

 16 employees at a large cannabis cultivation facility, Copperstate Farms, in Arizona had to receive medical attention after a massive spill of the commercial greenhouse cleaner Strip-It. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has now inspected the facility and while the case is still open, sanctions could follow.

Just last week, a chemical explosion at another growing facility, Arizona Development Services, required several firefighter crews to put down. After inspecting the site afterwards, it was determined the fire was caused by “improperly stored hazardous materials”. Thankfully, no one was inside at the time of the fire, but damages are estimated to be about $100,000.

‘I have a level of professional and personal concern about this newborn industry – while marijuana has been around a long time, at the industrial production level it is an infant,’ stated Neal Langerman, a safety consultant and founder of Advanced Chemical Safety in California.
Langerman, who is also a corporate liaison to the ACS’s committee on chemical safety, referred to an assessment by Colorado researchers that found that there was “an imminent need to establish formal health and safety training to implement best practices” across the cannabis industry.

Those are just two examples of incidents that made the news, but there are dangers for grow workers every day. Some common effects reported included headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties, sinus congestion, sinus irritation and skin rash. Mold and fungus are the likely causes of this - A research team from National Jewish Health entered 30 illegal grow operations and found 40 percent of them had levels that would be classified as an indoor air quality problem.

 Production facilities and the workers needed to tend them are growing faster than the safety standards can catch up. Interest in the chemical properties of cannabinoids and CBDs, different strains of the Cannabis Indica and Sativa subspecies as well as the demand for hemp products, such as edibles, have increased to an all-time high. There are more of these than most people realize - Colorado alone has over 1000 licensed facilities, and there are thousands more in states such as Arizona and California.

 It’s an unfortunate reality that we cannot rely on all business and building owners to adhere to proper safety protocols. We see neglected buildings in urban areas with large police and inspection presences, so imagine how much neglect can happen in more remote areas with less personnel and unclear standards. This is a largely unseen but critical problem in the industry right now; hopefully, safety checks and building integrity will be a top priority for government officials and business owners going forward.