A tragic death inside a state licensed marijuana facility in Holyoke, Massachusetts, is being called the first of its kind in the industry.
Lorna McMurrey, a 27-year-old employee, collapsed inside Trulieve's production building after having trouble breathing. Her mother, Laura Bruneau, is calling for change to prevent this from happening to another family.
"I lost my everything, like, my whole world," Bruneau said. "I don't even know how I made it this far without her."
Bruneau told the NBC10 Boston Investigators she received a text from her daughter just after 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 4 that said she was having trouble breathing and walking at the same time. She told her daughter she was on her way to Trulieve, but when she arrived, first responders were already treating McMurrey and put her in an ambulance.
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According to reports obtained by the NBC10 Boston Investigators, emergency crews responded to a report that a person was in cardiac arrest. Bruneau says McMurrey was on life support at Baystate Medical Center for four days. Her death certificate shows she died after going into cardiac and respiratory arrest from a presumed severe asthma attack.
"I sat out there holding her hand four days on that machine just hoping, hoping that she'd come back," said Bruneau.
Reports from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show investigators found McMurrey died from occupational asthma due to exposure to ground cannabis, and that workers at Trulieve weren't provided enough information and training on the hazards involved in the production and grinding process.
Trulieve is contesting OSHA's findings. A spokesperson for the company tells NBC10 Boston that PPE was available onsite to all employees, and that air quality tested throughout the facility during the OSHA inspection tested at well below acceptable ranges.
McMurrey's family says she smoked marijuana recreationally, but never had asthma until she began to work at Trulieve. Loved ones say she was rushed to the hospital two months before she died after having trouble breathing at work.
"That's where it all came out that she was developing asthma, and she had never had any breathing problems through her whole life," Bruneau said. "She took her concern to the supervisors."
When asked why McMurrey didn't leave her job, Bruneau said, "You can say 'Why didn't you just quit,' but you know it's not easy to find a job. She was making good money and she really enjoyed working there."
Sen. John Velis, a Democrat whose district includes Holyoke, says worker safety is key in any industry.
"Obviously I'm concerned," he said. "I know that the company is, I guess 'refuting' might be the right word, some of the findings of OSHA, so I want to sit back and see where that goes. But obviously, on any worksite, what is absolutely paramount is the safety of the employees."
In its reports, OSHA noted that despite this being a relatively new industry, research has shown employees are at risk for developing allergies to marijuana plants, and that managing these allergies is difficult. The state's Cannabis Control Commission is also investigating the death.
"I miss her so much," Bruneau said. "I never want to see anybody go through what I've had to go through."
OSHA has fined the company $35,219 and cited it for serious violations, including not providing employees training and information about the hazards of working with ground cannabis and other materials. It has also asked Trulieve to take voluntary steps to protect employees from the hazards of cannabis exposure, such as setting up a medical examination program for employees, improving exposure prevention, offering training and job transfer options for allergic employees.
UPDATE OCT. 20, 2022:
Truelieve released a new statement, detailing the events that happened on January 4th 2022 and the companies response, saying in part:
“In January of this year, Trulieve experienced the loss of one of our team members, Lorna McMurrey, who was working in our Holyoke, Massachusetts facility. Our hearts go out to Ms. McMurrey’s family, friends, and colleagues as the circumstances around her passing 10 months ago have received additional attention. The safety of our team members is vital to us and we value all 9,000 employees who make Trulieve a family.…
We stand by our record of providing important and full health protections to the more than 175 workers at the Holyoke facility. Each and every person working there is important to Trulieve.
- At its Holyoke facility, Trulieve installed and at all times operated appropriate industrial air handling systems designed to frequently exchange and filter indoor air associated with processing areas of the facility.
- To maintain air quality that is healthy and easily breathable, the Holyoke facility has a special industrial air filtration system that exchanges the air in the grinding room and has been certified by an independent engineer.
- We use Abatement Technologies Air Scrubbers that are two stage air carbon filtrations for odor control. The two air scrubbers each exchange and clean the air at appropriate intervals.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Trulieve provides N95 masks to employees, contrary to reports stating we only offered paper masks.
- On January 4, Ms. McMurrey wore an N95 mask for at least a portion of the day, contrary to reports stating Ms. McMurrey was wearing a paper mask.
Events on January 4, 2022
- On January 4, 2022, Ms. McMurrey arrived at the Holyoke facility for her regular shift. She spent the day working in the pre-roll area, contrary to reports stating she was in the flower grinding room.
- When Ms. McMurrey indicated to her supervisor that she was not feeling well, she was told that she could take the day off with pay, contrary to reports stating we insisted she continue working. However, she opted to return to work in the pre-roll area.
- When Ms. McMurrey began to appear to be in distress, Trulieve followed appropriate protocols. A manager promptly called 911. A trained member of the Trulieve security team began to provide CPR, contrary to reports stating that no CPR assistance was provided. EMS arrived quickly and took over management of the response.
- Upon arrival at the facility, it took EMS personnel less than one minute to begin medical attention to Ms. McMurrey, contrary to reports stating that it took medics a long time to reach the patient once they arrived at the facility.
- Ms. McMurrey was taken to Baystate Hospital where, unfortunately, she passed away on Friday, January 7.
Safety response equipment and training
- Trulieve regularly conducts certification training sessions in first aid and the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for managers, security, and supervisors.
- All three Trulieve employees who administered CPR to Ms. McMurrey on January 4 participated in a full certification CPR training session on Dec. 12, less than one month before the incident. All three were already fully certified in CPR training. This is part of Trulieve’s best practices to ensure training is up to date.
- One of Trulieve’s trained employees utilized our onsite AED under the direction of the EMS paramedics upon their arrival.
Notifications to OSHA & Mass CCC
- Trulieve properly reported to the Massachusetts CCC and OSHA that an employee had collapsed in one of our facilities within 24 hours of the incident, contrary to initial reports.
- Trulieve reported the passing of Ms. McMurrey to both organizations the next business day.
- OSHA conducted a thorough investigation of the Holyoke facility.
- As part of its investigation, OSHA took multiple air samples. All the air quality samples tested at the facility complied with relevant standards.
- OSHA only issued citations to Trulieve under the hazard communication standard. While we are open to all discussions about how to communicate better and provide enhanced training, Trulieve has contested those alleged violations.
- We believe we have demonstrated a safe and healthy work environment, but we will of course work with OSHA and the Massachusetts CCC to address their concerns. We want our employees to know they are safe and protected and that we are open to good ideas about any improvements that are necessary.
- Our industry is relatively new and young, and we will continue to work with all applicable regulators to develop appropriate industry best practices that protect all our workers. We want to lead the industry in establishing these best practices, so our workers know they are being taken care of. Workers deserve a safe and healthy environment.
- Our thoughts are with the McMurrey family for their loss. Trulieve will continue to operate its facilities in a manner that fully protects the health and safety of all employees. We are confident we did so in January and will continue to do so going forward.
- We look forward to working with OSHA and the Massachusetts CCC to establish new best practices.
- Trulieve looks forward to working with the entire cannabis industry to improve best practices. As our relatively young industry evolves, we want to make sure our workers can operate at all times in a safe and healthy environment.”