A federal report spurred by the death last year of 27-year-old Lorna McMurrey, a worker at a cannabis production facility in Massachusetts owned by multistate operator Trulieve (CSE: TRUL) (OTCQX: TCNNF), found that “occupational allergic diseases” including asthma are “an emerging concern in the rapidly expanding U.S. cannabis industry.”
The report, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, found that “respiratory tract or skin symptoms were reported by four of 10 coworkers with similar job duties” after McMurrey died in January 2022 from a severe asthma attack that was attributed to ground cannabis dust. Her death is the first-known on-the-job fatality in the legal marijuana industry.
“Evaluation of workers with new-onset or worsening asthma is essential, along with prompt diagnosis and medical management,” the report asserted, noting that McMurrey’s death was “consistent with fatal asthma triggered by cannabis allergy.”
During the inspection, which was conducted between February and April of last year, federal agents discovered that four out of 10 of McMurrey’s coworkers “reported work-related respiratory tract or skin signs and symptoms.”
The issue isn’t isolated to Trulieve. A separate inspection in Washington state found that at one indoor marijuana production facility, “13 of 31 employees had symptoms suggestive of asthma.”
“Cannabis industry employees are exposed to large quantities of ground product in some work areas, such as flower grinding and pre-roll production,” the report states, which is exactly the type of work McMurrey was doing when she died. “Asthma, allergic rhinitis, and urticaria have been reported among cannabis production workers.”
Also revealed by the report was the fact that McMurrey “used her own N95 respirator and wore company-required long sleeves and gloves while working” after being transferred to flower production work in October 2021. In addition, it said she had a previous medical episode in July 2021, becoming nauseated with an earache, cough, and loss of taste and smell, but twice tested negative for COVID-19.
Then on Nov. 9 that year, McMurrey “became acutely dyspneic” and was taken by ambulance to a local emergency room. She was prescribed several medications, including an inhaler to help relieve symptoms of asthma.
Before McMurrey died in early January, her mother told OSHA investigators, McMurrey said the inhaler was already “nearly empty.”
“This finding suggests that the employee had used most of the approximately 200 inhalations available in her inhaler over a period of approximately 2 months,” the report states.
The report puts a spotlight on the relatively new issue of worker safety in the cannabis industry. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued its own bulletin about the incident and the investigation, warning that McMurrey’s death “highlights the under-recognition of work-related asthma,” and offering tips for preventing similar tragedies.
A second cannabis industry worker death occurred in July at a facility in Illinois owned by multistate operator Green Thumb Industries (CSE: GTII) (OTCQX: GTBIF), when 60-year-old Julie Devinney collapsed and began “gasping for air.”