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Health Effects Associated With Indoor Marijuana Grow Operations

Health Effects Associated With Indoor Marijuana Grow Operations

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Published by: Michael_Lee_Roberts on Sep 11, 2012
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Health Effects Associated with Indoor Marijuana Grow OperationsByJohn W. Martyny, PhDMike V. Van Dyke, PhD, CIH, CSPJosh Schaeffer, M.S.Kate Serrano, MPH
Division of Environmental and Occupational Health SciencesDepartment of MedicineNational Jewish HealthDenver, CO
 
 
Introduction:
During the 1970's, most marijuana was grown in outdoor areas that were hard to find andwere not readily visible to law enforcement. However, with new law enforcementtechniques, including aircraft for surveillance, these large outdoor operations havebecome more vulnerable to detection and in much of the country growth is seasonallylimited by temperature and light. In addition, restricting the pollination of the femaleplants in the outdoors is more difficult thereby limiting the 8-9-tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) content of the buds. These factors have contributed to an increase in indoormarijuana grow operations.Indoor marijuana grow operations (MGO's) enable a year-long growing season in whichconditions can be tightly controlled, resulting in plants with higher THC content perplant. A number of environmental factors must be monitored and kept in balanceincluding the amount of light, the day-night periodicity, the carbon dioxide level, thehumidity level and the temperature. In addition, the plants must be provided withadequate nutrition and pests must be kept under control.Although these production factors could be provided in a greenhouse, such a growth areais very likely to be spotted by law enforcement officials or individuals wishing to stealthe crop. In order to prevent detection, MGO's are frequently established in a house or aportion of a house that can be easily confined. Since a residential structure is notdesigned to function as a greenhouse, contamination by pesticides and fertilizers is moredifficult to control, moisture can cause damage to building materials and result inexcessive mold growth, and the risk of fire is significantly increased.In order to provide the best growth environment for marijuana, temperature and humiditymust be regulated. Temperature is normally kept between 21 degrees C. and 32 degreesC. (although some references indicate that the optimum temperature may be as high as 35degrees C). The relative humidity is normally kept between 50% and 70% according tomost sources although there have been some reports of relative humidity exceeding 90%.Typically, the relative humidity is dependent upon the amount of ventilation that can beprovided and not the humidity that the plant needs. The allowable ventilation is likelydetermined by the need for secrecy, which may result in relatively high levels of humidity. The elevated relative humidity coupled with the elevated temperatures and theneed for irrigation, frequently enables fungal growth within the structure. Increasedfungal growth within the structure results in elevated mold exposures, of special concernwhen children are involved, as well as the possibility of actual structural damage to theresidence.Airborne levels of mold spores within these structures may subject the occupants,emergency personnel and other individuals to significant health hazards. Personsresiding in these homes are likely to have levels of exposure that can causehypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, asthma, and other respiratory diseases.Emergency personnel and law enforcement officers entering these facilities on a regularbasis have reported upper respiratory irritation, skin rashes, and other symptoms
 
 associated with these exposures. Officers with pre-existing conditions such as asthmahave reported an exacerbation of their existing conditions while dismantling indoor
MGO’s
.A factor that is very important in determining the THC content of plants is an elevatedcarbon dioxide level. The normal carbon dioxide level in the outside air ranges from 300ppm to 400 ppm. In MGO's it is desirable to have levels of carbon dioxide that exceed700 ppm with 2000 ppm being the highest desirable level. Most marijuana operationsattempt to keep carbon dioxide levels at between 700 ppm and 1500 ppm. While theselevels of carbon dioxide are not of public health concern, they do cause to ancillaryproblems. First, in order to keep carbon dioxide levels high, ventilation rates normallyneed to be reduced often leading to excess moisture. Secondly, if the carbon dioxide isgenerated by the use of fossil fuel combustion, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogencan be produced. Both of these compounds can be very dangerous and cause significanthealth effects in exposed individuals.Chemicals are also utilized as fertilizers and pesticides. Although these chemicals maynot usually cause a high degree of concern when used by qualified individuals, the use byindividuals unaware of the dangers may result in risk to the neighborhood, childreninvolved with the residence, and anyone unknowingly residing in the residence after itsuse as an MGO.Exposure to the fore-mentioned hazards may result in a community public healthconcern. Although the greatest risk is borne by the individuals residing in the residence,others may also be impacted. MGO's located in multi-family buildings may allow thedistribution of the chemicals used and/or produced into the ventilation system creating anexposure situation in other residences. Exposures to children living in these operationsalso present a public health hazard since the exposures may result in injury or death to aninnocent child. Fires and explosions may cause damage to not only the MGO but also tosurrounding houses. Lastly, these operations may go undetected putting an unsuspectingfamily buying the residence at a later date at risk of adverse health effects.This project was designed to quantify the chemical and biological exposures associated
with MGO’s in
Colorado and, from this information, to determine the procedures andpersonal protective equipment necessary for entry into indoor marijuana grow operations.
Methodology:
As noted above, there are a number of concerns associated with MGO's. Concernsinclude chemical contamination, carbon monoxide and other combustion products, aswell as excessive fungal contamination due to the high humidity in the home. SomeMGO's have carbon dioxide generators that utilize fossil fuel combustion potentiallyresulting in the production of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Fungal and bacterialgrowth may also be of great concern due to the high humidity and presence of organicmaterials in the house. We were also interested in the amount of THC present in the airand on surfaces within these
MGO’s
.

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