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State and federal medical investigators identified work-related “occupational asthma” as the cause of the January 2022 death of a marijuana cultivation worker in Massachusetts.
The death – the first of its kind on record in the U.S. cannabis industry – “illustrates missed opportunities for prevention,” according to an analysis published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” for Nov. 17.
The CDC report “represents findings of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection, which included a worksite exposure assessment, coworker and next-of-kin interviews, medical record reviews, and collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.”
The report does not identify the deceased worker or the cultivation employer, but the details match up with a January 2020 death at a Trulieve Cannabis facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Lorna McMurrey, 27, worked at Trulieve’s cultivation facility in Holyoke from May 2021 until her death.
She died three days after collapsing at work; the cause, according to the CDC report, was “anoxic brain death.”
An early OSHA report on the matter said that McMurrey had been grinding cannabis flower and “was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust.”
A later OSHA report did not list a cause of death.
According to a Trulieve statement to MJBizDaily in October 2022, McMurrey was working in the pre-roll area, not a flower grinding room.
Trulieve did not immediately respond Monday to an MJBizDaily request for comment about the new CDC report.
The CDC report found that four of 10 of McMurrey’s Holyoke co-workers “with similar job duties” complained of respiratory or skin problems.
The report’s findings highlight potential health risks inherent to marijuana production, especially with workers in other states reporting similar work-related breathing difficulties.
“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,” the report found.
After McMurrey’s death, Trulieve agreed to pay a $14,502 fine to OSHA and to study the hazards of ground cannabis dust.
According to the CDC report, McMurrey complained of health problems for months before she collapsed at work.
She first reported “onset of nausea, loss of taste and smell, earache, and cough” in July 2021, leading McMurrey to take two COVID-19 tests – both were negative.
McMurrey then experienced difficulty breathing at work on Nov. 9, 2021, according to the CDC report, and was transported by emergency medical services to a nearby hospital.
While en route to the hospital, she was given an albuterol inhaler, which generally is used for emergency asthma treatment, the report noted.
McMurrey “stated that she might be allergic to something at work because she had had a cough and runny nose” for more than a month, according to the CDC report.
On Jan. 4, 2022, the day McMurrey collapsed at work, she told a co-worker that “her shortness of breath had been getting progressively worse during the preceding 2 weeks,” the report found.
That same day, after McMurrey’s sneezing and coughing worsened, EMS was called again.
She suffered “cardiopulmonary arrest” before EMS arrived, according to the report, and never regained consciousness.
Chris Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.