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Home>Topics>>Marijuana Grow Operations, Part 1

Marijuana Grow Operations, Part 1

Fri, 9 Sep 2011|

Part one of this free training program from Firefighters Support Foundation details the nature of indoor marijuana grows and describes the very real but under-appreciated dangers associated with them.



[BLANK_AUDIO] Good day. I'm Rick Hetzel and today we'll be talking about indoor marijuana groves. A growing problem and concern across the United States of America for law enforcement and other first responding personnel. Indoor marijuana grow operations are regularly found by law enforcement and appear to be increasing in numbers. Indoor grows affect everyone, from the community... To first responders. Local criminal elements, organized crime and even terrorist organizations are involved in this illegal activity. As you will see from this presentation, these grow operations can range from the very simple to the extremely complex. But keep in mind all of them are dangerous, from the smallest, to the largest. Marijuana is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States. I've noticed in my law enforcement career that some criminal elements don't even consider it something illegal that they're doing. During interviews and interrogations, I've often heard suspects say, I don't deal drugs, I just sell marijuana. Or I don't use drugs, I just use marijuana. But it is an illegal drug and it is a large and growing problem. Indoor grow operations have been increasing in both Canada and the United States. Since the 1990s. We're going to focus on the indoor grow operations, rather than the large fields found both in California, North Carolina, and other states. This is marijuana that's grown in a home, trailer, garage, any indoor environment. Making it very different from those outdoor grows that many law enforcement officers. And responding fire departments are used to dealing with. In recent years, the United States has seen a drastic increase in the number of indoor grow operations, just as we have in the state where I police. As a law enforcement officer, I'm coming at this program from several different perspectives. Most importantly, to include firefighters and EMS, paramedics, intermediates, and EMT's. Without the firefighters and the paramedics, law enforcement would not be able to operate in the indoor grow environment. Nor be able to investigate them. It is absolutely a joint services essential investigation. Sadly, in recent years, a survey in Canada and the United States has indicated that some law enforcement officials. Have suffered from various illnesses and injuries associated to responding to indoor grow operations. Common health effects of an indoor grow include headache, nausea, breathing difficulties, sinus congestion, sinus irritation, and skin rash. Sounds like an allergic reaction. A few officers reported more serious illnesses. What we have to do as law enforcement and first responders is take dealing with marijuana in a more serious manner, and treat it in a more safe manner, as we dismantle these dangerous indoor grows. We all know that law enforcements involved in marijuana grow operations in their dismantling, discovery, investigation. Often we don't think about the fire department or the EMS roles. But both do have roles in these dangerous grows. Police departments when responding to these grows, often called fire departments. As backup, due to the dangerous lighting and electrical difficulties that they encounter while dismantling them. EMS can easily take a call for a heart attack victim, not realizing that they've just stepped in to one of these dangerous indoor marijuana grows. Let's now examine some reported illnesses and injuries. From these indoor marijuana growths. The following two examples were reported in the country of Canada. An officer worked in a small grow operation. 50 plants. For less than one hour. The next morning the officer experienced a very sore throat, nasal discharge, and fever. Over time a cough developed and shortness of breath. After four visits to the doctors, including one emergency room visit, the physician determined the symptoms were consistent with a reaction to mold exposure. In the next incident an officer worked in a large grow, 1,500 plants, for nearly 5 hours. At the end of the shift, the officer noted a small cut on his finger. The following day, the officer endured chills, sweat, and over time, experienced sore and swollen ankles, tight calves, sore joints, and muscle twitching. After visiting a physician, and eventually. And internist, it was determined that the officer had suffered from pesticide poisoning. So that's two incidences already. One from mold exposure, which the officer could have gotten by inhaling the mold. The second pesticide poisoning. From the cut on his finger from handling the pesticides that are inside these indoor grows. That would lead me to believe that both of these officers were working in these laboratories with no personal protective equipment whatsoever which has been the standard in the United States and Canada for years. But it's not just law enforcement officers that are being injured in these dangerous indoor grows. A fire fighter was electrically shocked while attacking a fire in a residential structure. A 277 volt step up transformer has been wired directly. To the electrical panel for indoor marijuana grow lights. This more than doubled the voltage potential and prevented the 15 amp breaker from working properly. The wiring to the grow lights had open splices. Not contained within junction boxes and exposed the casing and were directly contacting the floor. The exposed ends of the energized wiring contacted the pools of water from the fire hoses and caused electrical shock to this firefighter. In other incidents, a firefighter was seriously electrocuted. Of course I don't know any other way to be electrocuted, other than seriously. While battling a fire at an indoor grow operation in Alameda California. Firefighters are experiencing numerous indoor grows, and indoor grow operations that catching fire in the state of California. And then a law enforcement officer was electrocuted while dismantling an indoor grow operation in Phoenix Arizona. So you can see this problem doesn't just apply to law enforcement. Fire fighter, law enforcement, paramedic all are involved in these indoor grow operations. This means to me that it's time for all first responders to do a health and safety audit. We need to evaluate our current practices when dealing with these indoor groves and we need to talk about standard personal protective equipment including respiratory protection requirements. While working these indoor grill operations. It's my recommendation now, that we have a site safety at all indoor grow operations, just like we do at clandestine methamphetamine laboratories. Let's talk for a second about some of the common hazards found in indoor. Grow operations. Faulty electrical hookups, flammable gases, dangerous molds, the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals all within a confined environment, not necessarily a confined space. Hazardous atmospheres. Booby traps and violent suspects. They all exist. Sound familiar? Just like a clandestine laboratory. The problem is that law enforcement, firefighters, and paramedics across the United States have a very inconsistent response to these indoor drugs. Some departments use personal protective equipment. Some of them have training involved prior to officers going to these indoor groves. Some apply their clandestine laboratory training principles and even use clan lab trained personnel, which we do in my state. Other departments say it's just marijuana, it's no big deal. This has been the attitude across the country for years, but it's time to change. We need to get ahead of the curve now. Some departments are in a wait and see mode, but there's no time to wait and see. The problem is here now. Is an indoor marijuana grow a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory? No. But the same clan lab principles should be applied. We should go in and assess the hazards, then control the hazards, use the proper protective equipment, maybe include a respirator. And then each department should establish policies and procedures. For dealing with these dangerous indoor marijuana grows. Unfortunately, nothing in an indoor marijuana grow is directly covered by a specific OSHA standard, therefore departments aren't held to any specific standard. A little bit now about marijuana, or cannabis, horticulture. The air. What's gotta have enough carbon dioxide and low pollution, which would mean filtration, plus a good relative humidity temperature and ventilation. Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, can be added during the vegetative growth. It can increase the growth up to 25% resulting in a greater yield or better harvest to the indoor marijuana grow farmer. A normal amount of carbon dioxide in the environment would be 300 parts per million. Optimal for a marijuana grow would be 1,400 parts per million. Deadly to the plant, 1,800 parts per million. And dangerous, extremely dangerous to the first responder, 5,000 parts per million. Please realize, that just because the plants are okay, that doesn't mean that you're okay. A mistake could have been made by the grower on the afternoon that you go in to execute a search warrant or receive that call for a heart attack victim. The indoor grow operator might have miscalculated that afternoon about how much carbon dioxide was being pumped into the environment. And could correct it that night and the plants would be OK, but you're not OK that afternoon walking into that environment. Relative humidity optimal for plant growth is 60-70 percent. Disease and pests thrive at higher relative humanities. And plants could dry out at lower relative humidities. Especially the younger plants. However, a 60 to 70% relative humidity is also optimal for mold growth. So it's a two sided problem. You've got great plant growth, but now you've got dangerous mold growth. In the same environment. Temperature. Marijuana grows best at a temperature of 68 to 72 degrees. What else grows great at a temperature of 68 to 72 degrees? Dangerous mold. Let's start with some fun facts about mold. Molds reproduce by forming spores. And dispersing the spores into the air. Molds require three things to grow. Nutrients, some level of heat, and water. Marijuana requires the very same things. Molds can produce chemicals to fight off other species of mold. Molds can appear to dry up, die off, and then suddenly they're back stronger than ever. But where do molds come from? Mold is found in every outdoor environment throughout the world. Mold spores are so small, they are easily dispersed through the air all around us. Since homes are not built air tight mold spores constantly enter our residences and are normally found within buildings at lower levels than out doors even in the building that I'm standing in right now. We encounter molds every day, all day long. Mold becomes an indoor air quality concern when amplification occurs. Mold amplification occurs when the mold species and total numbers within an indoor environments becomes significantly different from the outdoor levels. More or less meaning there's more mold indoors than there is mold outdoors. Amplification can be the result of an increase in the total number of mold spores. The establishment of a dominant species differing from the molds of the outdoors. Or the increase in population of mold species differing from those in the outdoors. How can mold amplification occur? Molds need some level of nutrients, heat, and water to grow. Sound familiar? Like an indoor marijuana grove. Molds require a source of carbon in order to grow mats. With the change in building materials in the early 1970's, more organic materials, such as sheet rock and cellouse ceiling tiles where being installed in home. These materials are a rich source of carbon for molds to digest. New homes promote more mold growth and water damage. Many other materials present within buildings are good sources of carbon for molds as well. Carpet glues, tile grouting, food stuffs, paper products, exposed wood products, and ceiling tiles. Next, heat and temperature. Mulch requires a certain amount of heat to be able to grow into a large mat. Areas with little air movement create pockets of heat necessary to facilitate mold growth. Molds can create their own temperature-rich environment through the act of metabolizing building materials. In other words, while they eat, they produce their own heat. So why is it that we don't see mold in every building? Why is there not a giant sheet of mold behind me on this wall. Well, water is the limiting factor needed by molds to amplify within an indoor environment, particularly wet nutrient sources. When building materials become wet, the mold spores, normally in the air, land on the wet material and start to visibly grow within 48 hours. But by having an indoor grove in a home, or a room, or a basement, or an attic, the grower creates a microclimate. Relative humidity in a building should be no higher than 60% to prevent mold growth. But remember the relative humidity for plants? Optimal 60 to 70%, the same for mold. Disease and pests thrive at higher relative humidities and plants can dry out at lower relative humidities. I'm repeating myself but it's an important fact when it comes to mold growth. Let's talk about another incident involving mold or fungus when it comes to marijuana. A 34 year old man who had undergone a bone marrow transplant for chronic leukemia was reported to have developed a fatal. Disseminated fungal infection associated with a contaminated batch of marijuana cigarettes, used heavily for weeks prior to his admission in the hospital. Not very smart on his part, and also illegal. Marijuana growth has been associated with many types of bacteria and fungus. But opportunistic pathogens can be produced post-harvest and with a storage of marijuana. Mold cannot grow in plant material that's below a 15% moisture content. Properly dried marijuana contains a 10% moisture content. Infested marijuana, produces a musty or stale odor. Do any of my law enforcement officers in the audience recognize the possibility of this smell in their evidence room? Might be something to look into. Contaminated marijuana, that is undergoing rapid decay, may actually feel warm to the touch. But now let's really start to examine the health implications of mold associated with indoor marijuana grows. Amplification creates an indoor mold environment different from the outdoor environment and may contain some species which produce toxic chemicals. Since the indoor environment has changed compared to what we are used to encountering, sensitive individuals, those with allergies, asthma, immune system deficiencies, the aged, or the very young are susceptible to adverse effects related to mold amplification. Health effects. Now I'd like every law enforcement officer in the audience to be honest with yourself. Have you ever felt any of these effects when you've got done working in any marijuana grow environment wearing no personal protective equipment whatsoever? Flu like responses, runny nose, sinus irritation, headaches, body aches, congestion, respiratory complications, bronchial constriction, asthma attacks for those with asthma, and a general malaise. There're increased incidents in flu, cold, sinus infections, routine bloody noses or bloody mucus secretions, non-incident specific fatigue, rashes, nausea maybe based on the ingestion of some mold spores in the environment. And diarrhea. There are a lot of toxogenic species of mold. One labeled as black mold. The toxin present in the spores has the potential, in high enough doses, to cause bleeding of the lungs. And potentially death to highly sensitive individuals. Young infants, elderly, immune compromised individuals. This is important to know, maybe as a paramedic you go into a home and there's something wrong with an infant, and you can't quite figure out what's going on. But you might see the glow of a grow light present in one of the rooms with the door shut. It may be an indicator that the infant's been exposed, to one of these dangerous molds. It also produces its own known potent carcinogen, and it's been found in indoor grow operations in Ontario, Canada. Aspergillus mold, one of the most dangerous molds present in an indoor marijuana grow environment. It's found to inhabit and live on marijuana. It's dark green, to black in color. And has a fuzzy appearance. Symptoms can be as mild as an allergic reaction, similar to asthma. Inhaled spores, by someone with a depressed immune system, could suffer increasingly serious allergies and may eventually contract the disease aspergillosis. Other species of concern, aspergillus fumigatus. Considered a human pathogen, produces toxin that can cause cellular toxicity and immunosuppressive health effects. Aspergillus flavus. Produced a Aphlax Toxin B1, one of the most potent carcinogens known to man. Aspergilis Niger reported to cause skin and pulmonary infections. Aspergilis Verascular produces myotoxins that can cause diarrhea, upset stomach, reported to produce liver and kidney carcinogens. All have been found in indoor marijuana grow operations across the nation. And then these other three species, that you can see on your screen. One produces a toxic metabolite listed on California Proposition 65 Known Carcinogens. And reproductive toxins list. The next one produces a toxin that is reported to be nefrotoxic, meaning damaging to the kidneys. And the next one, potential health effects from the produced toxin include tumorgenic or tumor producing. Teratogenic, causing malformation in developing fetus, that is non fatal and hepatotoxic, which means it causes liver damage. Although we have or more importantly starting. To gather data in regard to the potential for many species to cause toxicity. The necessary data pertaining to human exposure with mold, or these molds, is actually lacking. There are hundreds, if not thousands of species of molds that we do not have data regarding the health effects to human beings. Or in our case, first responders. OK. Police, fire, paramedics, we know we have mold. Now what? I say, proper protective equipment. Proper personal protective equipment: gloves, suits, goggles, respiratory protection, and a DCON plan. Now let's talk about what makes an indoor grow just as dangerous as a meth lab. Chemical hazards. NGO chemicals, fertilizers, ammonia. Nitrate based, toxic, and reactive. Insecticides. They're toxic. Fungicides, they're toxic. Pesticides are toxic and skin absorbing. Should we be picking those open bottles up with no gloves on? Rooting promoter, silica based. A respiratory toxin. Shouldn't we be in some type respiratory protection when we work within the environment. And any time we deal with chemicals never assume the chemicals will react the same based on a similar name. Carbon Monoxide versus Carbon Dioxide. Chemical properties. The physical properties. Characteristic behavior in the ambient environment or the environment that you're in. And then there's the hazardous properties of these chemicals. The inherent ability of the chemical to cause harm. Let's take the time to talk about the following chemical properties. Solubility, specific gravity, vapor density, vapor pressure, flammable and explosive limits. For any of you out there that have dealt with clandestine methamphetamine labs, or had that training, all of this should sound familiar. But we're having a class now on indoor marijuana grows. Chemistry doesn't change. Only the illegal activity does. Solubility. The ability of the chemical to dissolve in a liquid. Fertilizers are usually very soluble. And if something is very soluble, that can have to do with the route of exposure into the body. If it's very soluble, it may increase the ability of your skin to absorb that chemical in. Chemical specific gravity. Compare the density of the chemical to the density of water. Water always equalling one. If it has a specific gravity less than water, it will float in water, typically flammable solvents will do this. If it has a specific gravity greater than one, it will sink in water. Pesticides typically exhibit a specific gravity greater than one. Vapor density. We're comparing the density of gas or vapor to air which would have a density of one. If the density is less than one. It will rise in air. If it's greater than one, it will sink. Carbon dioxide has a vapor density of 1.53 so it will sink in the air. Carbon monoxide has a vapor density of 0.96. It will float in air. Vapor pressure that means the pressure created against the atmosphere applies to liquids and solids. High vapor pressure equals high inhalation hazard to the first responder. Many fertilizers and pesticides have very low vapor pressure. Which means they have a low inhalation hazard. Flammable limits, amount of fuel mixed with air that will burn. Defined by the upper and lower limits. Flammable limits, unconfined. You have a lower flammable limit, and an upper flammable limit. explosive limits confined. You have a lower explosive limit and an upper explosive limit. Propane is 2.4% to 9.5%. Natural gas 5.3% to 14%. But remember we're talking about indoor marijuana grow operations. We actually have to be concerned with the explosive limits to some degree because it's in a confined space. That confined space being a house, not necessarily a tunnel, mine, basement, or cave. I hope this chart hopes to clarify flammable limits. Again, it's the amount of fuel mixed with air that will burn if you add a source of ignition. The following compressed gases may be found in an indoor marijuana grow: propane, natural gas, and carbon dioxide. Remember previously when i said we should **** the hazards and then control the hazards, chemical hazard controls, air monitoring. You may monitor the air for oxygen and flammability. You can use colometric meters specific to chemicals. That you may find in an indoor grow. You could use a Q-Trak, which would monitor oxygen, temperature, relative humidity, and carbon monoxide levels. You should constantly and consistently monitor the environment you're in while your team is in there during the dismantling of one of these indoor grow operations. If the oxygen levels were to fall below 19%, one of two things would have to happen. Your team would need to start wearing SCBAs rather than regular respirators. Or, you could fix that hazard by introducing more oxygen in to the environment, opening a window, opening doors. And getting the situation under control. The next thing you need to understand is the pH scale which is simply a measure of how acidic or basic a chemical is. When using pH test strips. Wet the entire strip, one strip per test. Line up strip, with the colormetric scale that comes with the strips. For solids, wet the strip first or carefully mix a small amount of the solid with water. Unknown chemicals. And always bear in mind that if a bottle has already been opened and the seal's been broken. It's an unknown chemical. We don't know what these clandestine indoor growers have put in a bottle that's already been opened regardless of how it's labeled. Always assume the highest risk category with these chemicals. Assess them on site. Use an LEL meter, PH Paper and other instruments if available. Always look at the labellings very carefully of any chemicals you come across. The following slides will give you an indication of what you're looking for on that bottle or container. And never forget about chemical incompatibility. Chemicals in the same general hazard class may be incompatible like acids and bases. Be careful when you're separating these items as evidence that you have them separated from each other. Acids should be on one side of the set-up, bases on the other, so that you never have an accidental spill or mixture of the two. All of these are reasons that I believe the most experienced and knowledgable officers should be sent to the scenes of these indoor marijuana grows. It's my suggestion that agencies use team members that are already trained in clandestine methamphetamine. Operations and laboratory dismantling to handle indoor marijuana grows. Electrical hazards. We've already talked about the firefighter who received a prolonged electrical shock while attacking a fire in a residential structure containing a marijuana grow operation. What we need to talk about now are safe work practices. We need to train police officers, firefighters, and responding paramedics and EMTs on how to identify a grow house, and the potential hazards that it may contain. Attempt to extinguish a fire in an identified grow house. Without entering the building. Stay out of the structure until the power has been turned off by the appropriate power authority's qualified and trained worker. Now, I am by no means an electrician. I've had to learn a little about about electricity to keep myself safe. So here are just some electricity basics. Hey, let's always assume that all wires are live that we come across. Until we can prove 100% otherwise. Contact your local utility company, they will be glad to come out and assist you. And be aware of all sources of power. Not all sources of power are gained legally by these indoor marijuana grow operators. Be aware that there could be wires and electrical hookups that you're completely unaware of. We have to concern ourselves electrically with overheating. That means the electrical current. Exceeds the capacity of the conductors. Power. The amount of current multiplied by the voltage level at a given point measured in wattage or watts. Ballasts. Look at this ballast box at the bottom. It ensures that the proper charge is sent to the grow lamps. And this is required with high pressure sodium lamps and MH lamps. It can hold power for up to 15 minutes after it's been unplugged. Too much power will decrease the life of a lamp and overheat the system. Not enough power will not fire the lamp up, but the most important fact about these ballast boxes is that they stay electrically charged for up to 15 minutes after they've been unplugged, so if you're working in an indoor grow environment, you unplug the ballast box. And then you were to set it down on the ground, not realizing that there was spilt water around your feet, you could be in danger of a high voltage electrical shock. Let's look at some of the effects that electricity can have on the, on the human body at different levels. It could be everything from a slight tingling sensation, although still dangerous under certain conditions. A slight shock felt, not painful but slightly disturbing, an average individual could let go. A painful shock, muscular control is lost. This is called freezing current or let go range. An extremely painful shock, respiratory arrest, severe muscular contractions can occur. Individual cannot let go and death is now possible. Then you have levels that actually cause ventricular. fibulation. The rhythmic pumping action of the heart ceases. Muscular contraction and nerve damage occur and death is likely. And finally, shocks leading straight to cardiac arrest, severe burns and probable death. Understand that indoor marijuana grow operators often steal their electricity or set up a bypass service drop. These are extremely hazardous because one, the first responder does not know that they're there or where they're located. Two. They're hard to detect. And three, you may accidentally step on one or not have electricity shut down when you think you do. Keep in mind that these electrical bypasses are not done by the local utility company. They're typically not even done by a trained electrician. They're done by the indoor grow operator, who is most likely not a trained electrician. These bypasses can lead to fires or electrical shock to any responder. Burns. The most common shock related injury is a burn. Burns suffered in electrical incidents may be one or more of the following three types. Electrical burns, they cause tissue damage and are the result of heat generated by the flow of electric current through the human body. Electrical burns. Are one of the most serious injuries you can receive and need immediate medical attention. This is why I recommend to any law enforcement agency conducting an indoor-grow marijuana investigation or dismantling operation that EMS is kept at the en. At the scene the entire time the first responders are there. High temperatures near the body, produced by an electric arc or explosion cause arc or flash burns. They also need prompt medical attention. Thermal contact burns occur when skin comes in contact. With overheated electrical equipment. Or when clothing is ignited during an electrical incident. Internal injuries caused by electrical shock. Our bodies use small electrical currents to transmit signals through the nervous system and to contract muscles. Extra electrical current flowing through the body can cause very serious damage. Medical problems can include bleeding, tissue destruction, and nerve or muscle damage. Internal injuries may not be immediately apparent to the victim or observers. However, left untreated, they can very easily result in death. Water, which is found in every indoor grow operation, is a conductor of electricity. Conductors are substances with relatively little resistance to the flow of electrical current. Water influences the conductive properties of some materials. Dry wood is a poor conductor. Wood saturated with water becomes a good electrical conductor. Use extreme caution when working with electricity where water is in the environment, or on the skin. Keep in mind that it's very hard to tell where electrical hazard may be. A piece of wood. May not look saturated with water but is saturated with water. An officer or first responder could easily bump in to an area of the grow and splash water on to an electrical hazard. Always be aware of the environment that you're working and remember that attention to detail will save your life. Human skin and resistance. Look at the difference between dry conditions and wet conditions. A low voltage electrocution becomes much more hazardous in a wet condition. High voltage electrical energy greatly reduces the body's resistance by quickly breaking down human skin. Once the skin is punctured, the lowered resistance results in a massive current flow. Common electrical mistakes found in indoor grow operations: the overloading of a circuit, mismatch of ballast, lamp, and power source, electrical equipment near a water source or wet materials. Using circuit breakers or fuses with the wrong rating for over current protection. An example is using a 30 amp breaker in a system with 15 or 20 amp receptacles. Protection is lost because it will not trip when the system's load has been exceeded. Using modified cords or tools. An example of that, removing face plates, insulation, et cetera. Using cords or tools with worn insulation or exposed wires. Using equipment outdoors that is labeled for use only in dry, indoor location. As a final thought to all first responders, if you suspect an indoor marijuana grove or a potential electrical hazard, contact your local utility company for help. [BLANK_AUDIO]

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