If you’ve ever watched Breaking Bad, or more realistically, the news, you’ve likely heard of an illegal homegrown meth lab blowing up in a residential neighborhood. While this conjures images of sketchy characters and dangerous criminal activities, the 2010’s have seen a new type of drug-related explosion – and this kind is legal.
Legal marijuana has been making its way across the country, with 33 states giving approval for medical or recreational use. One of the most common forms is a concentrated oil, which is packaged in cartridges, easy to find, and easy to use. Reuters reports that the concentrated product accounted for nearly one third of the $10.3 billion legal cannabis market in September 2018. However, the extraction of this hash oil, called BHO (butane hash oil), is through a risky process.
BHO extraction uses butane, a volatile gas, to extract all the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material. In the process, the gas takes liquid form, is mixed with cannabis, and then evaporates when heat is applied to the butane mixture. This industry is new, rapidly expanding, and lacking in safety standards. If off-gassing of the butane is not done safely, one spark from a cigarette, a compressor motor, or another source, can, and often does, cause a catastrophic explosion.
Safety at legal marijuana facilities is presently a state-by-state matter because consumption has not been legalized by the federal government. An improperly equipped, constructed, or operated facility can cause at the very least loss of product, catastrophic damage to the property, and at the most, loss of life. A FEMA bulletin notes a number of cases resulting in “fires and explosions [that] have blown out windows, walls, and caused numerous burn injuries.”
CED has already dealt with several cases of explosions stemming from the hasty rise of hash-oil production. The process should be done in a commercial, legal environment with state-of-the-art closed loop equipment. Additionally, if facilities comply with health and safety codes, and are inspected by professional engineers, this “boom” of industry will be one that is strictly beneficial.
Senior Mechanical Engineer