Worker dies at Holyoke cannabis cultivation facility
OSHA fines Trulieve $35,000 after employee’s death
LORNA MCMURREY, a 27-year-old West Springfield woman, died in January after a shift working at a Holyoke cannabis cultivation facility.
The company, Trulieve, was fined $35,200 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which found that McMurrey could not breathe after inhaling ground cannabis dust. McMurrey’s mother, Laura Bruneau, said she is considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the company.
“Things have to change for the protection of the employees,” Laura Bruneau said. “I don’t want to see this happen to anyone else.”
Joseph Franco, an attorney for the family, said the case is still under investigation and no lawsuit has been filed yet.
However, the company said OSHA conducted a thorough investigation of the Holyoke facility. It said personal protective equipment was available onsite, and air quality was tested throughout the facility and found to be acceptable. “We cherish and value all of the 9,000 employees who make Trulieve a family and the safety of our team members is paramount to our core values,” the statement said.
McMurrey was born in Springfield and graduated from Westfield High School in 2013. Her mother said she started working at Trulieve in May 2021. She previously worked in retail, preparing grocery orders for pickup.
“She was a hard worker,” said her stepfather Dave Bruneau, who knew McMurrey since she was 4 years old. Dave Bruneau said McMurrey was “a toughie” who would not complain about working conditions. “She knew work was that, it was work, it was hard, it was something you had to do,” Dave Bruneau said. “If you wanted anything out of life, you had to work to get it.”
Dave and Laura Bruneau, who are now separated, do not have direct knowledge of her working conditions at Trulieve. But Dave Bruneau, a mechanic who does welding and fabricating work, said McMurrey asked him for protective masks to wear at work a few weeks before she died, and he gave them to her.
Dave Bruneau said McMurrey was a long-time marijuana smoker, who would regularly cough when she smoked. But her mother, Laura Bruneau, said McMurrey had quit smoking, and her breathing problems started while she was working at Trulieve.
On January 7, 2022, McMurrey went to work at Trulieve’s cultivation facility on Canal Street in Holyoke. Her mother said she was told McMurrey had trouble breathing, collapsed, and lost consciousness. An ambulance was called. McMurrey’s obituary says she died at Baystate Medical Center.
“It was really a tragedy,” Laura Bruneau said. “She just missed her 28th birthday by a month.”
OSHA investigated and provided this summary of the incident: “An employee was grinding cannabis flowers, and packaging ground cannabis in pre-rolls. The employee could not breathe and was killed, due to the hazards of ground cannabis dust.”
OSHA, which did not name McMurrey in its report, wrote that the employee was processing kief, a type of finely ground marijuana dust that is produced by grinding cannabis flower and is used in pre-rolled joints.
OSHA on June 20 fined Trulieve $35,219 for three violations, all related to “hazard communication” — meaning communications to employees about the hazards related to their work. OSHA did not mention any violations related to a lack of personal protective equipment. On July 20, Trulieve contested the fines. The case remains open.
According to documents obtained via a public records request to OSHA, Trulieve was fined $6,215 for failing to compile a list of hazardous chemicals in the facility, including ground cannabis; $14,502 for not developing a safety data sheet for the ground cannabis; and $14,502 for not providing employees with information and training about working with hazardous materials, including exposure prevention, symptoms of inhalation and skin contact hazards, and the need for medical evaluation should symptoms develop. Each violation was listed as serious and required to be abated by August 17, 2022.
OSHA said it was withholding the rest of the investigative file based on an exemption that applies when law enforcement proceedings are pending.
At least one investigation is ongoing by state regulators.
The Cannabis Control Commission said Tuesday that the commission is investigating the Trulieve incident, and its investigation “remains open and ongoing.” In a statement, the commission sent condolences to McMurrey’s family. “The Commission takes the safety and welfare of Registered Agents, patients, and consumers seriously and has been and will continue to coordinate with public health officials to understand any contributing circumstances,” the statement said. Under state regulations, companies are responsible for maintaining sanitary conditions in their facilities and reporting public safety incidents.
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office referred questions to the State Police and Hampden County district attorney’s office. The State Police did not respond to requests for information about the case. A Holyoke police spokesperson said there is a record of an ambulance call to Trulieve that day, but no further information was available.
Jim Leydon, a spokesperson for the Hampden district attorney’s office, said his office does not have an active criminal proceeding related to McMurrey’s death. Leydon said McMurrey died at Baystate Medical Center after a call was received for a medical emergency. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner did not accept jurisdiction because it looked like no crime was involved in the death.
Trulieve is a publicly traded, multi-state, multi-million-dollar cannabis company headquartered in Florida. In the three months ending June 30, 2022, it reported earning $320.3 million in revenue, with a $182.2 million profit, from operations in 11 states. In Massachusetts, Trulieve runs a medical and recreational shop in Northampton and recreational retail shops in Worcester and Framingham, with its cannabis grown at the facility in Holyoke.
The Holyoke grow facility is in an old mill building and is licensed as a 70,000 to 80,000 square foot cultivation facility. The building is owned by Innovative Industrial Properties and rented to Trulieve in a sale-leaseback arrangement.
Drew Weisse, an organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers in Western Massachusetts, which represents many of the region’s cannabis workers, said the union does not represent any growers at Trulieve, which is not unionized.Trulieve has been cited by regulators before. In March 2022, OSHA fined the company’s Reading, Pennsylvania, facility $7,770 for violating a rule that requires them to report an employee’s hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. In 2019, OSHA fined a Trulieve facility in Quincy, Florida, $6,000 for seven violations, six related to respiratory protection and one related to hazard communication. There are three open OSHA complaints pending in Florida from earlier in 2022.
This story was updated after publication with a statement from Trulieve and comments from the Hampden DA’s office and the Cannabis Control Commission.