Safety First

The National Fire Protection Association provides best practices to minimize the dangers of extraction

Extraction continues to be one of the more dangerous aspects of the cannabis industry. The combination of high temperatures and pressures and flammable materials makes it critical for operators to use equipment correctly and follow proper storage guidelines for solvents.

According to Raymond Bizal, a registered fire protection engineer and director of regional operations for the National Fire Protection Association, each method of extraction comes with its own dangers.

Bizal says the single most important thing for anyone involved in cannabis extraction is to use a closed-loop system and use it in accordance with manufacturer’s requirements.

“Anybody that does open blasting is just crazy because you’re free-flowing a flammable gas,” he says.

While propane and butane are obviously explosive gases, high-pressure CO2 can also pose a hazard.

“If you have a simple crack or failure of the system, it can explode,” Bizal says. “We’ve heard of these CO2 extraction equipment bulleting, rocketing out of the building, through the ceiling and landing a couple of blocks away.”

Beyond using the equipment properly, Bizal stresses that cannabis extractors should follow all of the recommendations of their local fire agencies, as well as the fire code — including having a third party certify or review “every bolt, screw, washer, tube, seal (and) pressure vessel.”

“Everything that connects to that entire system is evaluated for many things: pressures, temperature, material compatibility, as well as compatibility of the materials to each other,” he says, adding that owners should not modify extraction equipment in any way.

“Once you modify your equipment outside of what’s allowed by the manufacturer, then you are putting the closed-loop system at jeopardy,” he says.

It’s also important for businesses to have a good relationship with both their local fire agencies and building department so they can ensure the layout of the building, the electrical work and the material storage are safe for employees as well as first responders, in the event of a fire.

“They’re basically consultants that are working for you to make sure you have a safe operation,” Bizal says.

Other recommendations for the cannabis industry, including processors and extractors, can be found in Chapter 38 of the NFPA 1 fire code.

Bizal says that in his experience, cannabis processors generally follow the regulations and recommendations, not only for their own safety and the safety of their workers, but for the safety of the industry in general.

“The most important thing to the cannabis industry is to be able to operate,” he says. “And if you have a lot of fires in a lot of these facilities that might call into question the whole cannabis legalization. And nobody wants that.”

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