According to federal health and safety officials, a worker in Massachusetts became the first reported fatality due to occupational asthma in the U.S. cannabis production industry.
According to a federal report released on Thursday, a 27-year-old woman working in a cannabis cultivation and processing facility suffered from worsening respiratory symptoms related to her job. Tragically, she passed away due to an asthma attack in January 2022. The report highlights the increasing concern for allergic diseases, including asthma, in the rapidly growing U.S. cannabis industry, which has seen a surge in legalizations at the state level.
According to the report, the death of the worker highlights the missed chances for prevention, such as workplace exposures, medical surveillance, and following current asthma guidelines for treatment.
The report emphasizes the importance of evaluating workers who develop or experience a worsening of asthma in cannabis facilities. This approach, when combined with timely diagnosis and medical care, can potentially prevent workplace fatalities.
The report was published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It contained the results of an inspection conducted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The inspection included an assessment of worksite exposure, interviews with coworkers and next-of-kin, reviews of medical records, and collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The report does not reveal the identity of the employee or the location in Massachusetts. However, according to filings from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an employee at Trulieve’s Holyoke facility suffered an asthma attack while packaging ground cannabis into pre-rolls and passed away in the hospital. Trulieve has identified the worker as Lorna McMurrey, 27, in the previous year.
No comment was given by representatives of Trulieve in response to requests from The Associated Press.
The report references research that highlights respiratory dangers in the cannabis growing and manufacturing sector, such as allergens from microorganisms and plants. It also mentions that substances like pesticides and allergens unique to the cannabis plant can pose a risk.
The discovery coincides with the trend of legalizing recreational marijuana and the subsequent expansion of the cannabis market. Currently, almost half of the states have legalized adult recreational use of marijuana. This movement first started in 2012 with Washington and Colorado and has since gained momentum.
Supporters of safety in the cannabis industry are pushing for increased measures to ensure that the marijuana business does not pose any danger to employees or the general public.
The recent passing of a worker in Massachusetts highlights the urgent need for stricter regulations in the cannabis industry, according to Scott Gagnon, a watchdog for the industry who promotes substance abuse prevention in Maine. Despite being legalized for several years, marijuana remains a cause for concern.
According to Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, the organization advocating for marijuana law reform, the industry aims to prioritize safety. He believes that implementing regulations and standards similar to those in other workplaces can greatly decrease the likelihood of incidents.
In addition, if any instances do arise, the regulated market guarantees that they are thoroughly examined and appropriate measures are implemented to avoid similar occurrences,” stated Armentano.