Holistic pot facility battles mold contamination in Monson

  • Ryan McCartney trims leaves from maturing cannabis plants about a week before harvesting at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in Monson on Friday, April 16. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ryan McCartney trims leaves from maturing cannabis plants about a week before harvesting at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in Monson on Friday, April 16. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2021 9:53:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facility located in Monson and owned by cannabis giant Holistic Industries experienced a widespread mold infestation earlier this year, according to documents reviewed by the Gazette.

An independent inspection by the firm EnviroMed Services — portions of which were anonymously mailed to the Gazette — found that between June 28 and July 3 there was mold contamination “identified throughout the facility,” including “significant areas of concern” with heavy mold spore estimates in 10 areas. Inspectors found common and toxigenic mold in vegetative rooms and in a storage room, and other molds were discovered in flower rooms, the harvest corridor, dry cure rooms and other areas.

Holistic’s 56,000-square-foot Monson facility contains around 15,000 square feet of cannabis canopy — some 20,000 plants growing at any particular time — and employs around 80 people. The company also manufactures edibles, concentrates and other products at the facility, and operates Liberty dispensaries in Easthampton, Springfield and Somerville.

The inspection duties of cannabis and cultivation facilities fall to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, which did not provide and answer when the Gazette asked when the state had last inspected Holistic’s facility. A spokesperson said that the CCC can inspect any facility at any time and that its staff “routinely conduct inspections of all licensees, while they move through the licensing process from provisional to final licensure, and after they commence operations in the Commonwealth.” State regulations do not specify how often inspections should occur, however.

In a statement, Holistic Senior Vice President Jamie Ware said that a power outage in December 2020 caused a “high humidity event,” after which the company began monitoring the situation. Then, in June, the company investigated a “pervasive smell” in the building, discovered mold in “contained areas” and began remediation, she said.

“To ensure our success we engaged environmental scientists, industrial hygienists, and construction contractors,” Ware said. “We are working to eliminate any and all sources of moisture that may be fostering mold growth so that this issue does not reoccur in the future. It is important to note that mold at some level is common in marijuana growing facilities, and as a result, testing finished products for mold is required by the Cannabis Control Commission before being sold.”

Asked when the last CCC inspection occurred at the 96 Palmer Rd. facility, Ware did not answer, saying only: “We are aware of any and all obligations, if any, to report this to our partner state agencies and are taking the appropriate steps.”

A CCC spokesperson declined to provide any inspection reports from Holistic’s Monson facility, saying that the Gazette must file a formal records request for any such reports. In a statement, the spokesperson said that other local, state and federal agencies can inspect cannabis facilities, but that those findings and procedures “are autonomous of the Commission.”

“If findings are discovered that violate both the regulations of the Commission and another organization, those entities may collaborate to conduct similar, yet separate investigations,” the spokesperson said.

In a phone interview, Monson health agent Lorri McCool said that the Cannabis Control Commission, not the town’s health department, inspects the Holistic facility.

Ware, the holistic executive, said in her statement that all Holistic products pass state-mandated, independent testing as well as company quality assurance checks before going to market. She said the company did have some complaints about a product that has a “different smell.”

“Once we identified mold was present in our facility, but had not compromised the safety of the plants, we assumed some of the facility smell transferred to product or packaging,” she said. “This is when we proactively added the extra QA processes of sensory and visual inspections, pulling any batches that did not meet our standards.”

The Monson facility continues to operate at full capacity, Ware said. She said environmental science experts assured the company that the mold was not a hazard to human health, and that during remediation the company made KN95 masks available to employees who wanted extra protection beyond the masks they wear regularly to reduce coronavirus infections. Workers also wear scrubs that are disposed of after a shift or professionally cleaned, she added.

“We also have installed extra air filters, purifiers and air blowers to better circulate the air and to manage the moisture level in the facility,” Ware said. “Our team regularly tests the air quality and will continue to do so.”

Holistic noted that the Gazette had only received portions of the independent report detailing the mold contamination in the facility, though did not provide the full report when requested by a reporter.


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