In late October 2018, a federal jury ruled in favor of a Colorado cannabis grower whose cultivation facility—and its pungent odor—had drawn the ire of neighbors. Alleging that the indoor facility’s odor was driving down their property value, a neighboring couple had taken the owner of the Pueblo County, Colo., cannabis company to court in 2015. After three grueling years of legal proceedings, the case was settled.
Land owner Parker Walton prevailed, but the victory was uneasy.
This hasn’t been the only attempt to control the cannabis industry through odor-related litigation, but this case reminded cultivators about the consequences of a pungent grow: Cannabis odor control is serious business.
Whether you’re working in an indoor, outdoor or greenhouse environment, you’ll need to think ahead to sniff out cannabis odor problems. Cannabis Business Times compiled perspectives from industry stakeholders on how to craft a conscientious and effective odor control strategy.
Marc Byers, Owner and President, Byers Scientific & Manufacturing
1. Know Your Technology. Byers, who runs his company out of Indiana, says that growers must be intimately familiar with the technology they’ll use to address airborne odors. For those using a neutralizing chemical, one that triggers a specific chemical reaction with odor-causing particulates, that interaction should occur separately from the space where the actual cannabis cultivation is taking place.
Because greenhouses and indoor facilities typically maintain higher temperatures than the surrounding environment, the hot air inside is pushed outside through vents. Odor rushes out with it. Attacking odor away from the crop is the first step to ensuring chemical safety for employees and, inevitably, fresh air for neighbors.
(According to the "2018 State of the Industry Report," compiled by Cannabis Business Times with support from Nexus Greenhouse Systems, greenhouse cultivation is on the rise, having increased from 34 percent to 45 percent of the cannabis market between 2016 and 2018. In many greenhouses—those that lie in the middle ground between tightly controlled environments and the natural outdoors—Byers has seen the greatest need to combat ventilated cannabis odor and organic compounds.)
“Odor mitigation has to happen separate from the growing area if you’re introducing a neutralizer,” Byers says, since cannabis growers are working with a product that will ultimately be ingested. When we’re talking about odor control, we’re talking about public health.
2. Map It. Byers suggests that if they haven’t yet settled on a growing location and designed a build-out, cultivation business owners should assess the land. In addition to physical site assessments, Byers uses Google Earth to perform assessments for his clients. He’ll connect the geography with predominant wind patterns and take stock of what commercial or residential properties are located near the grow. The interplay between chemical tools and wind is vital to odor mitigation, he says.
3. Plan Ahead. Many cannabis growers discover that they already have an odor problem before contacting an odor mitigation company, he says. “When you look at it from a business sense, from [a cultivators’] point of view, odor control is a cost center. Period. There’s no revenue stream attached to it, so you’re not going to do it until you have to—and ‘have to’ can take a lot of different forms.”
While many odor control strategies are reactive—addressing a problem only when compliance is cast into question, health concerns arise or lawsuits are brought—it’s the proactive methodologies that will spur success for a cannabis cultivator.
In many jurisdictions, local and state regulators mandate an odor control system before issuing a permit to grow cannabis, as in Oregon and Washington state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which does not regulate cannabis cultivation presently, offers a list of regulatory options for public officials intending to circumscribe odor issues. And otherwise, good odor control equates to good corporate citizenship; it helps to meet your local community more than halfway.
Alex Park, CEO, Vera Cultivation
4. Sealed Spaces Lead to Tight Control. Know how tightly controlled your facility is and become familiar with your HVAC system before finalizing any odor mitigation plans, Park advises.
“There are structural considerations,” Park says of his Boulder, Colo., greenhouse and how the Vera team designed its cultivation facility. “That's kind of the No. 1 element on a preemptive basis to mitigate odor issues. Tightness of structure, for us, is paramount, because we don’t have a lot of passive odor escape.”
Vera Cultivation’s sealed greenhouse allows Park and his team to actively flip between a positively and negatively pressurized growing space, which in turn gives Vera a degree of freedom in choosing odor mitigation strategies.
5. Don’t forget local code. “There is a minimum amount of air exchange within a facility that is, of course, code-related,” Park says, “and that should be considered for anyone working in any legitimate building jurisdiction. … When you're doing due diligence on a parcel of real estate, understand that if you're building near a residential zone area then you are certainly augmenting the potential that [you'll] have odor complaints.”
Todd Statzer, Director of Environmental Sciences, Urban-Gro
6. Odor is a VOC. Statzer places cannabis odor into a broad spectrum of “volatile organic compounds,” or VOCs. This classification includes any airborne virus, fungus, mold or mildew—the sort of collective problem that ignited a national conversation around “sick-building syndrome.”
In the 1970s, building construction began favoring air-tight edifices to save on heating costs. VOCs grew more prevalent in office buildings around the U.S., and employees started to complain about mysterious leg cramps and headaches. The culprit: improper ventilation, which caused various symptoms collectively dubbed “sick-building syndrome.” In the absence of a proper odor mitigation program, organic compounds in the air will become a silent and harmful problem for anyone in your facility.
To solve the odor and airborne pathogens problem, an effective odor control solution attacks all airborne VOCs.
7. Don’t Overdo It. Statzer says that odor control strategies work like any other chemical equation: There’s a fine line between effective odor control and overdoing it. “A lot of times … we can solve the problem with a very small unit, or be able to actually treat it at the RTU [rooftop unit] or the AHU [air handling unit],” Statzer says.
“There are certain instances where that's a better solution,” he says. “That's why [odor control plans] are custom-designed, so that we know we’re right. Each plan must fit the specific grower’s needs.”