Washington growers need to clear the air with the state

A smoke plume from a cement factory (photograph copyright  Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons licence).

A smoke plume from a cement factory (photograph copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons licence).

Christen McCurdy


The skunky odor of marijuana might smell like money and good times to those in the cannabis industry, but there are some people out there that consider it pollution.

Since 1968, Washington State has been requiring businesses that may create air pollution — including the emission of strong odors — to get air quality permits.

“People say why do I need a permit? I’m not making a pollution, I’m just growing a plant,” said Carole Cenci, senior engineer with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which issues air quality permits for businesses in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties. “The reality is, this type of product does create odor, and not everybody thinks it smells good.”

Washington State specifically identifies smell as an air contaminant in the Washington State Clean Air Act, Cenci said.

Mark Salley, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said agricultural activities — including cannabis grow operations — are exempt from the state’s odor regulations. He said it’s “highly unlikely” a retail operation would produce enough odor to be considered a nuisance, though some municipalities may have more specific requirements about odor control. He added that Colorado’s laws pertaining to odor control don’t make a value judgment about what types of odors can be considered offensive.

There are 10 different clean air agencies that handle different jurisdictions throughout Washington (see end of story for more information).

“If you’re going to grow or process marijuana, you need an air quality permit, before you buy equipment, before you even design your system,” Cenci said.

Once a business has filed an initial permit application, Cenci said, they’ll hear back from the agency within a couple of weeks. Depending on the operation’s size and specifics, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for PSCAA to grant full approval for the permit application.

Cenci said about 10 growing operations in her jurisdiction have applied for air quality permits. The first applications began rolling in last summer. PSCAA has already approved most, although one large operation’s permit is still pending, Cenci said.

“We have contacted all of the growers on the Liquor Control Board approved list or the pending list (in the Puget Sound Area). There are permits that are not issued but are pending. We haven’t heard from a whole lot of them, but we want to continue to get the word out,” Cenci said.

Washington State’s initial filing fee for a permit is $1,150. As PSCAA processes applications, there may be additional fees that so far have ranged from $1,200 to $6,000. Growers need to pay those fees in full before they can get permits.

Vendors who specialize in clean-air filtration have worked closely with the cannabis industry to help mitigate odor for several years at grow operations and dispensaries nationwide, as well as in Canada.

“We’ve been around for about 30 years and the marijuana business is new to us,” said Robert Goodfellow, vice president of marketing at Dynamic Air Quality Solutions in Arkansas. While the $10 million company features an array of clients including hospitals, big airports and schools, it’s never busier at a trade show than when it sets up a booth at a cannabis-related event.

Most of Dynamic’s clients need to filter pollutants in the air surrounding a facility — such as jet fuel at airports or lingering exhaust from helipads at hospitals — but also works with businesses that want to filter indoor odors such as cigarette smoke.

Goodfellow said most grow operations in Dynamic’s client base use packaged rooftop units that detect carbon dioxide, as well as volatile organic compounds, and use a carbon matrix system to filter contaminants, including mold spores.

Vaportek, a Wisconsin-based company that manufactures a wide range of odor-eliminating products, works with clients in real estate, fire and flood restoration, health care and hospice, as well as cannabis growers. It markets a variety of standalone products to grow operations, making different recommendations based on the size of the facility. Vaportek’s media coordinator, Sunny Schneider- Christensen, said rather than selling its products directly, Vaportek depends on its distributors and dealers. Those distributors can be found at www.vaportek.com.

“How Vaportek is different from the other guys is we use essential oils,” Schneider-Christensen said. The Vaportek system doesn’t use filters. Its essential oil, dry vapor technology eliminates odors through molecular pairing.\

Steve Van Slyke, manager of compliance for Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, emphasized the need for growers to work closely with officials early in the planning stages to avoid complaints and penalties for non-compliance.

“The goal is to be in compliance with the appropriate air quality regulations so there is clean air and residents are not burdened by nuisance odors or other air quality impacts,” Van Slyke said.

The agency will investigate operations once an air quality complaint has been made. So far, it has issued 10 tickets to grow operations for operating without a clean air permit. But the agency would rather work with growers before reaching that point, since investigating complaints is time- and labor-intensive, Van Slyke said. Growers who fail to respond may face financial penalties, he said.

“We have several tools available to assist with getting businesses into compliance, including written warnings, notices of violation and civil penalties,” said Della Kostelnik Juarez, communications specialist for Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. “If a business receives one of these enforcement actions, they have several opportunities to discuss their specific circumstances to us, and we will review any information they provide.”

Cenci said most of the growers she contacts are just hearing about the agency for the first time and are unfamiliar with the regulations. She and her colleagues attempt to head off problems early, and encourage growers to contact PSCAA before the agency contacts them.

Olympic Region Clean Air Agency

Clallam, Grays, Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, Thurston counties

Phone: 360-539-7610      Website: www.orcaa.org


Department of Ecology — Northwest Regional Office

San Juan County

Phone: 425-649-7000


Northwest Clean Air Agency

Island, Skagit, Whatcom counties

Phone: 360-428-1620      Website: www.nwcleanair.org


Puget Sound Clean Air Agency

King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish counties

Phone: 206-343-8800      Website: www.pscleanair.org


Southwest Clean Air Agency

Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania, Wahkiakum counties

Phone: 360-574-3058      Website: www.swcleanair.org


Department of Ecology — Central Regional Office

Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan counties

Phone: 509-575-2490


Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency

Yakima County

Phone: 509-574-1410      Website: www.yakimacleanair.org


Department of Ecology — Eastern Regional Office

Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman counties

Phone: 509-329-3400


Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency

Spokane County

Phone: 509-477-4727      Website: www.spokanecleanair.org


Benton Clean Air Agency

Benton County

Phone: 509-783-6198      Website: www.bcaa.net



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