Cannabis worker died on job from asthma attack; first reported case in US
A 27-year-old woman suffered a fatal asthma attack last year in what health and workplace safety officials said was the U.S. cannabis industry’s first reported occupational asthma death.
The woman was working in a cannabis cultivation and processing facility when she experienced worsening work-related respiratory symptoms that ended in a fatal asthma attack in January 2022, officials said in a federal report published Thursday. The report states that allergic diseases such as asthma are a growing concern in the U.S. cannabis industry, which has grown rapidly in recent years thanks to a wave of state-level legalizations.
The report said the worker's death “illustrates missed opportunities for prevention, including workplace exposures, medical surveillance, and treatment according to the current asthma guidelines.” The report does not name the worker or the Massachusetts facility.
However, the report does state that evaluation of workers with new-onset or worsening asthma is essential in cannabis facilities. That approach could help prevent workplace deaths when paired with “with prompt diagnosis and medical management,” the report states.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the report, which it said represented findings of a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection that 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 cites studies that identify respiratory hazards in the cannabis cultivation and production industry, such as microbial and plant allergens. The report also states that chemicals such as pesticides and allergens specific to the cannabis plant itself can be a hazard.
The finding comes as legalization of recreational marijuana, and the resultant growth of the cannabis industry, is spreading. Almost half the states allow adult recreational use of marijuana. Legalizations began in 2012 with Washington and Colorado.