The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report confirming the first case of an occupational asthma death in U.S. cannabis history.
Per the report filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a cannabis production worker died at a Massachusetts cannabis facility due to an occupational asthma attack.
While the report does not mention the name of the employee, the described circumstances and media reports indicate that this is the case of Lorna L. McMurrey (27), who died on Jan. 7. 2022 while working at a Trulieve TCNNF production facility in Holyoke, MA.
McMurrey complained that she could not breathe, presumably due to cannabis kief (cannabis dust) in the air where she was grinding and packaging prerolls. She was taken to a local hospital where she died shortly thereafter.
Both McMurrey’s family and co-workers spoke to the press about the case, after which Trulieve came out with an official statement disputing some of the reported details. The Trulieve statement came out about a week after McMurrey’s family told a local NBC station that Lorna smoked cannabis from time to time but had never experienced asthma until she started working at the Trulieve facility. Her mother mentioned another incident that occurred two months before her daughter’s death, in which they realized she was developing asthma.
Why It Matters
As the first confirmed case of occupational asthma in a cannabis facility, the CDC report says the incident “illustrates missed opportunities for prevention, including control of workplace exposures, medical surveillance, and treatment according to current asthma guidelines.”
The report states that cannabis dust from the grinder was collected by a shop vacuum, but that the “vacuum had no high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, and visible dust escaped.”
The report further notes that McMurrey’s co-workers reported that her cough increased notably when the grinder was on. “Efforts to reduce her exposure included covering the grinder vacuum with plastic (the outside of which became visibly coated with ground cannabis) and moving her workstation outside the grinder room. She also used her own N95 respirator and wore company-required long sleeves and gloves while working.”
The report notes that OSHA analyzed air quality “after the grinder was connected to a new shop vacuum with HEPA filtration.”
The CDC highlighted that “occupational allergic diseases, including asthma, are an emerging concern in the rapidly expanding U.S. cannabis industry…occupational asthma is generally associated with a latency period of months to years between first exposure and symptoms.”
The CDC concluded that the best prevention can be achieved via a multifaceted approach and that it is “essential to evaluate workers with new-onset or worsening asthma for relation to work exposures and to recognize work in cannabis production as potentially causative.”
Read the full report HERE
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