The company that operates a cannabis manufacturing plant near Bernalillo where a chemical spill and fire injured a man last month was already facing fines totalling more than $50,000 for more than a dozen serious health and safety violations at one of its other manufacturing facilities.
Minerva Canna LLC is facing fines of $23,736 for seven health violations and $26,400 for the same number of safety violations at a manufacturing facility that was located on Jefferson Street NE in Albuquerque, according to the state Environment Department.
A spokesperson with the department said the fines resulted from citations issued in February. Minerva did not appeal the fines but still hadn’t paid them, he said, and the Occupational Health & Safety Bureau is pursuing collection.
State officials inspected the Minerva facility on Jefferson NE in August 2022 and issued citations on about six months later on Feb. 2, the Environmental Department said in an emailed response to questions from the Signpost.
Erik Briones, who heads Minerva Canna, acknowledged that the company had been cited, but suggested it was no longer facing fines.
“No, actually we’re not,” he said when asked about the company facing $50,000 in fines. “We closed that facility over a year ago.”
Briones suggested that state Occupational Health and Safety and Health Bureau inspectors actually inspected the facility early last year, not last August. He also downplayed the impact of their visit.
“We were literally moving out and they showed up. The place was a fricking disaster, but we weren’t even out of there yet,” he said.
When told that an open case and fines show up against the Jefferson Street facility on the Bureau online database, Briones said there must be a lag in the reporting.
“We’re waiting for them to clean them up,” he said. “They have everything they need. It just takes awhile to clean it up.”
Some of the safety violations include not having fire extinguishers and adequate first aid resources on hand. Others had to do with inadequate information to employees about safety risks in the workplace.
Other recent incident
State officials are also investigating another Minerva manufacturing facility near Bernalillo following an incident last month.
On Aug. 14, Sandoval County Fire and Rescue was called to Minerva’s manufacturing facility on NM 313 north of Bernalillo due to a 23-year-old man with burns. The SCFR report describes the incident type as an “outside gas or vapor combustion explosion.” It says that upon arrival first responders saw smoke coming from a metal shed on the property and found a 6-pound package of cannabis burning inside.
The injured man was treated at the scene and transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.
Briones told the Signpost that there was no explosion or fire. He said the employee dropped a beaker of hot oil and suffered second-degree burns on his ear and neck.
Cannabis manufacturing facilities typically make cannabis-infused edible products, concentrates for vaping and topical applications. One process for producing inhalable concentrates involves extracting THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant, through mechanical methods using volatile solvents or CO2.
Minerva is one of the state’s “legacy” cannabis establishments, meaning it was among the first businesses in New Mexico to grow and sell cannabis in the state after the medical cannabis program was established in 2007. Today, it operates in both the medical and recreational markets and is renowned for its baked goods and other edible products.
A search of active cannabis licenses on the state’s Cannabis Control Division website shows no active licenses at the address on Jefferson cited for the health and safety infractions, all 14 of which were labeled “serious.”
According to OSHA’s field operations manual, serious violations are those where “there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition that exists, or from one or more practices, means, methods, operations, or processes” at a place of employment.
Four of the health inspection violations involved “Respiratory Protection,” which are required to protect workers from air contaminants in some work areas, according to the field manual.
Two violations were for “Hazard Communication,” which can include written warnings, safety data sheets, information and training provided to employees. Another health violation had to do with medical services and first aid supplies at the site.
The safety inspection resulted in two citations for portable fire extinguishers. Another violation falls under the category of “maintenance, safeguards, and operational features for exit routes,” while another is for “duty to have fall protection and falling object protection.”
The Cannabis Control Division on Friday said it has no involvement in the investigation.
"However, the CCD anticipates reviewing the reports and outcomes of the investigations conducted by our state colleagues when determining what additional investigations may be necessary from the perspective of the requirements of the Cannabis Regulation Act."
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