Throughout California, incidents are on the rise involving butane honey oil (BHO) extraction from marijuana. On April 8, the Health Hazardous Materials Division (HHMD) received three separate calls involving BHO operations. The first one took place in Malibu, the second in Glendale and the third in Huntington Park. These incidents involved two explosions and fires with a total of three people injured and transported to burn centers.
The process of extracting the active component from the marijuana plant (known as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) to create the hash oil otherwise known as honey, wax or oil is on the rise. The lead police agency in our area, the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Team, also known as LA IMPACT, reports that honey oil is selling for $50 per gram on the street. It is believed with the increase of vaporizing or vaping, the demand for the marijuana honey oil is on the rise. Individuals can now smoke a concentrated dose of THC and avoid the traditional marijuana odor.
Unfortunately, many people are not taking appropriate precautions in dealing with the highly flammable butane. The gas is added to tubes filled with marijuana where the butane acts as a solvent to extract the THC from the marijuana. The gas is heavier than air and accumulates in the surrounding area until it finds an ignition source such as the pilot light, static electricity or a light switch. The results can be a severe explosion and fire. Individuals involved in these recent explosions sustained second and third-degree burns throughout their bodies.
For the first time, a new extraction process was identified at the Malibu incident. An elaborate design utilizing Freon as the solvent to extract the THC was observed (see photo at left). The setup was so sophisticated it included a vacuum with a recovery system to capture and reuse the Freon similar to a vehicle’s air-conditioning system that circulates Freon. This method appeared to create a clean product and eliminated the fire hazard from the process.
HHMD is responsible for monitoring the atmosphere for hazardous conditions, identifying and quantifying all hazardous substances associated with the drug manufacturing process, determining the scope of the clean-up, and overseeing the removal of all hazardous materials onsite. HHMD will access State Clandestine Drug Lab funds to activate a clean-up contractor for the transport and disposal of all hazardous materials and lab equipment onsite. As the Health Officer on scene, once the lab has been disassembled and the clean-up completed, the site is declared safe for re-occupancy.
It will be a very busy summer with many more of these types of incidents with the popularization of vaporized smoke applications and the allure of quick, easy profits.