On June 6, 2018, company officials stated there was an approximately three to five gallon chemical spill of STRIP-IT™ at the Copperstate Farms grow in Snowflake, AZ. Company Spokesperson Douglas Cole said a forklift driver knocked over a plastic container containing the cleaner onto the fertilizer room floor. The substance STRIP-IT™, as explained by Pace Chemicals is a specialty formula that quickly penetrates and removes algae staining, fertilizer build-up, calcium, iron staining, hard water deposits, and greenhouse whitewash coatings without scrubbing. The original complaint submitted to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) states that the dumping and draining of STRIP-IT™ is a common occurrence for Copperstate Farms. Following the complaint, ADEQ investigators became concerned with how wastewater from the cleanup of STRIP-IT™ was handled, and whether is was on a closed loop or discharged into a nearby stormwater retention pond on the property.
In the Hazardous Waste Field Inspection Report, Quality Assurance & Safety Supervisor Barbara Hansen stated, “that the spill was reported to her department and corrective actions were taken, according to standard procedures. The cleanup procedures included dilution with water. The waste water was then directed into the room’s sumps. To the best of their knowledge, Copperstate staff believe all sumps lead to the waste water [sic] collection system.” This statement directly contradicts the proper cleanup procedures outlined in STRIP-IT™’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS), which states, “Do not allow into any sewer, on the ground or into any body of water,” and to “Dike far ahead of liquid spill for later disposal. Soak up with inert absorbent material. Take up mechanically, placing in appropriate containers for disposal. Clean contaminated surface thoroughly. Prevent product from entering drains. Dam up. After cleaning, flush away traces with water.” In addition to not cleaning up the spill in accordance with the product’s SDS, the facility was also not storing the toxic chemical properly; the SDS says to “Store in a well-ventilated place. Keep container tightly closed.” However, as evident in photographs 17 and 18 from the complete inspection report, ADEQ observed unsealed drums of STRIP-IT™ with puddled liquid on the top of the drums.
The allegations in the ADEQ complaint, including others resulted in an investigation by the department into the spill that occurred in Copperstate Farms' fertilizer warehouse. In an unsigned affidavit dated August 18th, which apparently was not needed to pursue information from Copperstate Farms, Jenna Brickner, an ADEQ inspector, states that upon reviewing STRIP-IT™’s SDS, STRIP-IT™ is described as harmful if swallowed or come in contact with, causing severe skin burns, eye damage, and possibly even cancer.
Ex-employees such as Cale Nuest and Kara Bracken have stated in interviews with local AZ Family News that health- and safety-related conditions at Copperstate Farms are far less than up to par. In addition to multiple former employees asserting there was no safety training, Cale Nuest states, “I had an inhaler for work, I had an inhaler for home, and I had a breathing machine which I would use every day at lunch,” while Bracken, commenting on the effects the spill had on her, states, “When it first happened, I became very nauseous. My eyes started burning and I didn't know why. Bracken continues “My eyes were almost swollen shut and I was really nauseous and really dizzy.” According to the azfamily story done on the spill, ex- and current employees both state that there are issues with safety training and protective equipment which leaves the question of why Copperstate Farms isn’t taking the initiative to keep their employees safe by providing proper training or equipment that would keep them out of harm’s way.
Copperstate Farms’ disregard for safety is also evident in the original ADEQ complaint for the spill. The complainant alleges that employees were not notified of the spill until 20-25 people ended up in the hospital, and that following the spill, exposed employees in need of medical attention were prohibited from calling 911 for ambulances and were instead transported to hospital via private cars. Furthermore, Copperstate Farms’ ignorance for employee and patient safety can also be seen in circumstances documented by ADEQ such as fire extinguishers that were not up to date on inspections, or missing the tags in general, alongside many disregarded open containers of flammable contents, open barrels of used and unlabeled oil, amongst other shortcomings.
Upon looking at many of the pictures provided to us upon request to the department, it becomes apparent that Copperstate Farms has a blatant disregard for cleanliness, employee safety, regard for their surrounding environment, and that they demonstrate exceeding negligence. It appears ADEQ came to a similar conclusion, giving the Snowflake grow a notice of seven violations. Note that these files are only from the ADEQ investigation and only pertain to environmental quality. Though the long term effects of Copperstate’s practices are still largely unknown, the company’s disregard for employee safety, the environment, and its quality of medicine already has clear negative impacts on the community it supposedly serves.
Copperstate Farms is one of the largest wholesale suppliers of marijuana to Arizona dispensaries, and recently opened two dispensaries under their ownership in Tempe and Sun City, both named Sol Flower Wellness Center. They also produce edible products under the brand name Good Things Coming, and produce concentrates under the Arizona Moxie brand name. Also note that following the passage of SB1494, which mandates third party cannabis testing, general counsel of Copperstate Farms Ryan Hurley was appointed as a member of the Testing Advisory Council to help determine the specific regulations of the marijuana testing act.
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