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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC: Booming Cannabis Industry Could Have Critical Impact on Denver’s Air Quality

The emissions from cannabis cultivation factories (CCFs) for recreational and medicinal use could strongly impact the regional air quality in Denver, Colorado, according to research from Dr. William Vizuete, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

As more bills are passed in the United States to legalize recreational cannabis, the industry boom has become one of the largest in the country. Cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis in Colorado totaled $1.5 billion in 2017 – higher than the revenue for its grain farming industry. But despite its climbing revenues, the cannabis industry is not subject to the same environmental impact monitoring as the industries it rivals. Previous legal restrictions have limited the scope of this research, and prior studies pertain only to the impact of outdoor cultivation on ecosystems and watersheds, as well as to the energy consumption of indoor cultivation and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide).

Dr. Vizuete’s research, published by Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics in November 2019, examined the impact on air quality in Colorado from biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) emitted by CCFs. BVOCs are chemicals produced naturally by plants, but their high volatility can have significant ramifications on air quality if emission rates increase. The BVOCs produced in cannabis cultivation, like monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, can lead to the formation of excess aerosols and ozone – both of which have climate-relevant implications and can contribute to air pollution that is harmful to health, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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