According to a report from Rock Island, Illinois police, Julie Devinney, an employee in the cannabis industry, tragically passed away on Friday morning at a Green Thumb Industries’ (OTCQX: GTBIF) facility. The police report, authored by Officer Austin Frankenreider and obtained by WeedWeek, provided additional insights into the incident. First reported by Weedweek, the death left many stunned.
Devinney’s supervisor, Amy Hermiston, informed the police that Julie had been experiencing breathing difficulties for some time. She had to leave work early on multiple occasions, including the day before the unfortunate incident.
Last Friday, Julie Devinney collapsed following a mandatory “not-strenuous” pre-shift exercise at GTI’s facility. Michael A. Hess, a production technician at GTI, made the 911 call and informed the responding officer that Devinney began gasping for air after completing the exercises. Despite her coworkers administering CPR, Julie was pronounced dead at the scene.
Furthermore, the report revealed that this incident on Friday was the 13th instance in the past 18 months where emergency medical services were required at GTI’s Rock Island facility, according to data from the city Fire Department.
Hermiston also revealed that Julie had been diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and struggled with severe breathing issues. Over the past 12 months, the fire department had responded to approximately 3-4 calls related to Devinney’s breathing problems, and she had been frequently taken to the hospital for medical attention.
Deputy County Coroner Cessna confirmed to the officer that he conducted an investigation and determined that the cause of Julie Devinney’s death was natural.
Industry Concerns Persists
In response to the incident, the cannabis workers union Teamsters expressed severe safety concerns. While it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the specific circumstances surrounding this tragic event, Jim Glimco, the president of Teamsters Local 777, emphasized that there have been notable worries about occupational hazards at this facility, mainly related to respiratory health, in the past.
Following this incident, Teamsters Local 777 filed additional unfair labour practice (ULP) charges against Green Thumb Industries. This move came after employees at GTI lodged a minimum of five complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), highlighting significant safety and health violations. Two of these complaints are under investigation at the Rock Island facility. Moreover, it is worth noting that GTI has faced previous citations from OSHA for health and safety violations at other locations.
The Rock Island factory is currently not unionized, adding to the concerns about safety standards within the industry. Even though Devinney’s case has been confirmed as a natural cause of death, the apprehensions about safety persist for two primary reasons.
One of the primary reasons for the persisting concerns about safety standards within the cannabis industry is that this is not the first incident of a cannabis worker dying during their shift. Last year, a tragic incident occurred at a Trulieve facility in January 2022, where 27-year-old Lorna McMurrey lost her life.
According to the report filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), McMurrey had complained of breathing difficulties, presumably caused by the cannabis kief (cannabis dust) in the air while she was grinding and packaging prerolls. She was rushed to a local hospital, but tragically, she passed away shortly after. Such incidents underscore the need for rigorous safety measures in the cannabis industry.
Following the tragic incident involving Lorna McMurrey, her family and coworkers openly shared their perspectives with the media, prompting Trulieve to issue an official statement. The statement was released approximately a week after McMurrey’s family spoke to a local NBC station, raising concerns about some of the reported details.
According to McMurrey’s family, she occasionally smoked cannabis before. Still, it was only after starting work at Trulieve that she began experiencing asthma symptoms. Her mother confirmed another incident two months before Lorna’s death, during which they noticed signs of her developing asthma. The case sparked discussions about workplace conditions and potential health risks associated with cannabis industry employment.
Danny Carson, McMurrey’s former supervisor, refuted Trulieve’s statement that workers had access to protective equipment. He clarified that the masks provided were primarily for COVID prevention and were not suitable respiratory masks designed for the industrial tasks performed at the facility. He emotionally stated, “They killed my friend,” highlighting the profound impact of McMurrey’s tragic passing on him and the pressing need for transparency and accountability in such cases.
After nearly two months, Trulieve took the step of voluntarily agreeing with OSHA. The agreement aimed to implement further health and safety measures for the company’s workers at its cannabis manufacturing facilities. As part of this accord, Trulieve committed to conducting a study to ascertain whether ground cannabis dust should be classified as a “hazardous chemical” following OSHA regulations within the occupational setting. This move reflects the company’s effort to address the concerns raised and potentially enhance safety standards for its employees.
WeedWeek highlighted a second potential reason for concerns spreading throughout the marijuana industry, as mentioned in a report authored by Dr. Bill Martin, the medical director at corporate medical consultancy Mediprise. In the report, Dr. Martin points out that ground cannabis is known to be a sensitizer and asthmagen, indicating that it can potentially induce allergic symptoms and worsen or trigger asthma.
According to the report, continuous exposure to airborne ground cannabis dust can lead to occupational asthma. Symptoms may include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, cough, and in severe cases, even fatal outcomes. The report emphasizes the importance of understanding the hazards associated with Ground Cannabis Dust (GCD) to prevent the onset of occupational asthma. This condition can be chronic, debilitating, and potentially lethal.
The report also references a study from 2020, where 71% of surveyed employees confirmed experiencing “work-aggravated symptoms consistent with occupational allergy.” Additionally, the report suggests that the rapid growth of the cannabis industry may have surpassed the establishment of best practices in occupational health and safety, raising concerns about worker well-being.
Recent incidents involving the unfortunate deaths of cannabis industry workers like Julie Devinney and Lorna McMurrey have raised significant safety concerns within the marijuana space. The observations and reports from experts underscore the potential risks associated with occupational exposure to ground cannabis dust and its implications on respiratory health.
The cannabis industry must prioritize implementing robust safety measures and adhere to best practices in occupational health to safeguard the well-being of its workers. Addressing these concerns is essential to ensure a safe and sustainable work environment for employees within the growing cannabis sector. (Full Story)