According to a 2017 report by Arcview Market Research, the legal cannabis industry has accelerated dramatically over the past few years and will continue to grow. In 2016, consumers spent about $6.9 billion on legal cannabis products in North America. This represents a 30 percent growth in spending from the previous year. Much of this growth was in the United States, particularly in states that now allow adult-use marijuana, such as Colorado and Washington.

Last year, other states passed medical cannabis laws and similar initiatives for adult-use marijuana. Based on these developments, the projected annual compounded growth rate over the next five years is an astounding 26 percent, which would push spending to more than $21 billion by 2021.
What does this mean for industrial hygienists? With the projected growth of the legal cannabis market, we expect to see more workers come under the protection of health and safety regulations. A 2017 report by New Frontier Data, The Cannabis Industry Annual Report: 2017 Legal Marijuana Outlook, projects the U.S. cannabis market to create more than 250,000 new jobs by 2020. More industrial hygienists will provide their services to cannabis cultivation, extraction, and retail facilities over the coming years.
Cannabis cultivation and extraction facilities are a unique workplace scenario and have the potential to expose workers to a number of hazards, such as pesticides, marijuana dust, marijuana resin, UV light, and mold spores. According to a 2012 report by National Jewish Health, indoor facilities create greater challenges with greater potential exposures to viable and non-viable mold spores. The report identifies mold as a major hazard, in addition to dermal contact with the resins. In a plant growth environment, workers can also be exposed to excessive UV light from the high-output grow lamps. These exposures are associated with both short-term and long-term negative health effects. Furthermore, protecting the cleanliness of products during production is essential. These circumstances are particularly worrying at indoor cannabis cultivation and extraction facilities, where conditions are warm and damp, and ventilation might be inadequate.
Given the growth outlook and unique hazards, industrial hygienists should be familiar with the potential risks facing cannabis growers and their employees, as well as the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) they should use to ensure both worker and product safety. COVERALLS AND LAB COATS In cultivation facilities, disposable coverall suits, known as Tyvek (by Dupont) coveralls or “bunny suits,” protect workers from exposure to dirt and fertilizers, and from inadvertent contact with pesticides and plant allergens. Bunny suits are also essential when workers are using chemicals such as dilute bleach solutions (for example, those with more than 5 percent sodium hypochlorite) to disinfect areas between plant generations and during particularly dirty operations.
During the cannabis infusion process, where extracted oil is added to edibles, it is important to protect the product from worker contamination. Skin cells, hair follicles, sweat, and any other bodily waste contacting merchandise can affect the flavor, quality, or safety of the product. Lab coats are the best way to maintain purity throughout the infusion and extraction process. Reusable lab coats should be regularly laundered in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code recommendations (see FDA Food Code 2013 subparts 4-301.15 on clothes washers and dryers, 4-401.11 on washer and dryer location, and 6-305.11 on dressing areas).
Personal Protective Equipment for Workers in the Emerging Cannabis Industry