Potential occupational and respiratory hazards in a Minnesota cannabis cultivation and processing facility.

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BACKGROUND:

Cannabis has been legalized in some form for much of the United States. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a health hazard evaluation request from a Minnesota cannabis facility and their union to undertake an evaluation.

METHODS:

NIOSH representatives visited the facility in August 2016 and April 2017. Surface wipe samples were collected for analysis of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol acid (Δ9-THCA), cannabidiol, and cannabinol. Environmental air samples were collected for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), endotoxins (limulus amebocyte lysate assay), and fungal diversity (NIOSH two-stage BC251 bioaerosol sampler with internal transcribed spacer region sequencing analysis).

RESULTS:

Surface wipe samples identified Δ9-THC throughout the facility. Diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione were measured in initial VOC screening and subsequent sampling during tasks where heat transference was greatest, though levels were well below the NIOSH recommended exposure limits. Endotoxin concentrations were highest during processing activities, while internal transcribed spacer region sequencing revealed that the Basidiomycota genus, Wallemia, had the highest relative abundance.

CONCLUSIONS:

To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first published report of potential diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione exposure in the cannabis industry, most notably during cannabis decarboxylation. Endotoxin exposure was elevated during grinding, indicating that this is a potentially high-risk task. The findings indicate that potential health hazards of significance are present during cannabis processing, and employers should be aware of potential exposures to VOCs, endotoxin, and fungi. Further research into the degree of respiratory and dermal hazards and resulting health effects in this industry is recommended.

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