New research from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and the Washoe County Health District (WCHD) shows that the same chemicals that are responsible for the strong smell of the cannabis plant could also affect air quality and air pollution on a larger scale. Research shows that the airborne chemicals called biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) could affect both indoor and outdoor air quality when present in large amounts.
Scientists representing the Desert Research Institute visited four facilities growing cannabis in the states of Nevada and California to learn more about the chemicals emitted during both the cultivating and processing of the cannabis plant, as well as to evaluate any larger-scale impacts these processes could have on urban air quality.
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The team identified high levels of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) at all four of the facilities. At facilities where cannabis oil is extracted from the plant, scientists found high levels of butane, a volatile organic compound (VOC) present. Butane is currently used in the oil extraction process.
"The concentrations of BVOCs and butane that we measured inside of these facilities were high enough to be concerning. In addition to being potentially hazardous to the workers inside the cannabis growing and processing facilities, these chemicals can contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone if released into the outside air," explains Vera Samburova, Ph.D., lead author and Associate Research Professor of atmospheric science at DRI.
We often relate the ozone to its protection from UV rays. Although this may be the case in regard to the upper atmosphere, ozone at ground-level is toxic for humans to breathe. Ozone at ground level is formed when nitrogen oxide emissions combine with the volatile organic compounds from plants, cars, and other industrial sources in the presence of sunlight.
Research found that the BVOCs emitted by each plant has the potential to prompt the creation of harmful ground-level ozone at the rate of roughly 2.6g per plant per day.