ONTARIO — An investigation by state agencies into potential wrong-doings at a local hemp processing plant is now complete, with the second agency to have investigated the plant having found no violations and having issued no citations.
Treasure Valley Extraction, which leases space at the City of Ontario’s former municipal golf course, was accused of workplace safety violations as well as potential environmental violations in November of 2019. Jim Hutchens and Dave Eyler, who co-own the hemp processing plant denied any of the accusations from the beginning, saying that the allegations had come from a “disgruntled former employee.”
The hemp processing plant is governed by rules established by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, however the violations were not under that agency’s jurisdiction. For this reason, the complaints were forwarded on to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division.
Oregon DEQ found no violations of state or federal laws upon its investigations and cleared the agency of those allegations in mid-December, but plant owners had still been waiting for official clearance from OSHA since November.
In its referral to OSHA, ODA “reports employees are experiencing ill effects working in a commercial hemp extraction facility with poor ventilation.”
The findings of the Oregon OSHA investigation were released to the newspaper last week. According to an April 24 inspection report, the case was closed Nov. 21, 2019 following a two and a-half hour site visit by Senior Health Compliance Officer Terry Riessen.
In an inspection summary, it was reported that the ODA had previous testimony from an employee at the hemp plant that a method previously used to render hemp “purportedly caused poor air quality within the facility.” In that method, the hemp “would be rendered to a fine consistency using portable leaf blowers within an enclosed tent-like structure.”
However, the employer and current employees told Riessen that “such methods were short lived, and that hemp is no longer rendered onsite by such methods.”
Upon further inspection, the compliance officer also found that carbon dioxide levels were screening at “considerably below” allowed levels.
On May 4, the Department of Consumer and Business Services, which oversees Oregon OHSA, sent Oregon Department of Agriculture the results of its findings.
“At the time of inspection, no inhalation hazards were observed or reported by employees,” reads the letter. “We appreciate your concern regarding safety and health conditions at this workplace.”
Hutchins said the news comes as no surprise to the company, as they were told back in November that they were doing nothing wrong.
He said switching from carbon dioxide extraction to ethanol extraction meant no more having to grind the hemp down to fine consistency.
“It was an unfounded, anononymous complaint and we knew it had no merit,” Hutchens said.