Michelle Ko at 2018 WCAHS Symposium Roundtable

Funded Rapid Response Projects

2020–2021 Projects

Student Outreach Clinic – Fall Harvest

Gerald Ackerman, University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Yerington, Nevada experiences a physician shortage acutely during the harvest season, when the town’s population doubles for six months because thousands of migrant farmworkers temporarily move to the surrounding farms. Workers labor sunup to sundown and only have Sundays off, which makes it difficult to access medical and social services since many local businesses are closed on Sundays. This project will provide support for a recurring Sunday clinic to provide free primary care services as well as social work, dental, and legal support services.

Pandemic and Wildfire Smoke Safety Project (PAWSS) 

Agriculture and Land-based Training Association (ALBA)

The Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association’s project, Pandemic and Wildfire Smoke Safety Project (PAWSS), will provide agricultural safety education to farmworkers about COVID-19 and wildfire smoke. Safety workshops and technical assistance will be provided to help increase knowledge and help farmers to update or create worker safety compliance plans. 

Chemico-Toxicological Assessment of Potential Impacts of Wildfire Emissions on Farmworker Health

Keith J. Bein, PhD, UC Davis

Wildfires are projected to continue increasing in size, severity, and frequency, accompanied by longer fire seasons and larger geospatial areas of susceptibility. Farmworkers are especially vulnerable to wildfire emissions exposure given the coincidence of farming and fire seasons, extended physical outdoor labor, and lack of resources. This project aims to close the knowledge gap on understanding the impact of wildfire emissions, in combination with agricultural emissions, on farmworker health and safety. Using analytical chemistry techniques and cellular bioassays, investigators will identify chemical fingerprints that trigger adverse biological reactions.

Potential Risks to Wearers of Face Masks: Inhalable Particulates from Facial Mask Debris from New Face Masks

Shiori Echizenya, student, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

In the agricultural setting, extensive wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic have sparked an urgent need for improved guidelines regarding face mask use. This project will examine inhalable face mask debris from new masks and determine the presence of pathogens on unused masks to determine whether there is an exposure risk to those wearing a mask prior to use.

Promotion of Naturally Occurring Biopesticides from Date Industry By-products to Reduce Workers Exposure to Chemical Fumigants

Jesus D. Fernández-Bayo, PhD, UC Davis

Soil biosolarization has demonstrated to be a safer alternative to chemical fumigation. This technique relies on the release of biopesticides from the fermentation in the soil of the
organic carbon from agricultural by-products. However, it requires massive application of plastic film to promote the anaerobic conditions and trap the biopesticides in the soil, which
jeopardizes the sustainability of this practice. This project will assess for the first-time if local by-products with high sugar content can accumulate biopesticides to concentrations lethal to soilborne pathogens in water-flooded soil, without the use of plastic or hazardous chemicals.

Agricultural Use of 1,3-Dichloropropene and Emergency Department Visits for Asthma in California from 2013 to 2017

Robert Gunier, PhD, MPH, UC Berkeley

This project will investigate the relationship between agricultural use of 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D), a component in soil fumigants, and emergency department (ED) visits for asthma in nearby communities. The investigators will examine whether the association is affected by weather factors such as wind speed or direction, temperature, and relative humidity, and other pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide. They will also evaluate the relationship stratified by age, race/ethnicity, and sex.

Workplace Burden of Valley Fever 

Savannah Hunter, MA, PhD candidate, UC Davis

Valley fever (or Coccidioidomycosis) is a growing occupational health problem for Californians, particularly those working in agriculture, construction, and other outdoor occupations. This project will analyze Valley fever claims to California Workers’ Compensation from 2000 to 2019 and support the development of a new dataset of historical occupational Valley fever outbreaks recorded in state agency investigation reports, newspapers, and legal cases filings. This work will help to build our understanding of the scope and burden of this occupational disease and to support ongoing advocacy and educational work on Valley fever prevention.

Understanding COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Access for Daytime Farmworkers in Imperial County

Adrianne (Annie) Keeney, PhD, San Diego State University

Despite the critical importance of farmworkers in the multibillion-dollar agricultural sector of Imperial County, California, they are at increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. This project will examine COVID-19 related stressors and barriers to vaccination and testing between the commuting farmworker population and the farmworker population residing in Imperial County. Investigators will conduct interviews and administer a questionnaire to farmworkers to assess how widespread other stressors, such as housing and food security, intersect with COVID-19 related stressors. 

Occupational Exposure to Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Poultry Farming

Xunde Li, PhD and Xiang (Crystal) Yang, PhD, UC Davis

There is considerable evidence that farmworkers on poultry and livestock operations are exposed to antimicrobial resistant bacteria (ARB). The ARB can lead to ineffective antibiotic treatment of infectious diseases in workers, increased morbidity, and possibly death. However, the risk of antimicrobial resistance and routes of ARB transmission to workers remain unclear. This project will characterize ARB in the poultry farming environment and the routes by which poultry farm workers are exposed to hazards.

Agricultural Worker Exposure to Wildfire Smoke Pollution in California During the 2020 Fire Season

Miriam E. Marlier, PhD, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Wildfire activity in the western U.S. has increased in frequency and severity over recent decades. Due to the physically demanding nature of their work outdoors, agricultural workers can be exposed to high concentrations of air pollution due to wildfire smoke and the subsequent health effects. This project will evaluate the use of NOAA’s High Resolution Rapid Response Smoke model to quantify the exposure of California’s agricultural workers to wildfire-related smoke pollution during the 2020 fire season.

Cannabis Industry Occupational Health and Safety Stakeholder Meeting

Marc Schenker, MD, MPH, UC Davis

Despite the size of the industry and rapid growth in revenues and employment, there is very little in-depth research on the health risks faced by cannabis workers. This project will convene researchers, regulators, and other stakeholders in cannabis industry occupational health and safety in an online meeting to network, share past and ongoing work, and identify opportunities for collaborative research in this small but important and growing field. 

2018–2019 Projects

Food Security and Nutritional Status among Agricultural Workers in the California Central Valley: Pilot Study

Reina Engle-Stone, PhD, and Leslie Olivares, UC Davis

Agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley experience poverty and food insecurity and are thus at risk for multiple forms of malnutrition, including nutrient deficiencies and overweight and obesity. This project will assess the prevalence of anemia and iron deficiency, and relationships with food insecurity, overweight/obesity, and subclinical inflammation among agricultural workers in the Central Valley via anthropometric measurements, collection and analysis of blood samples, and interviews to assess food insecurity and household characteristics. Results will inform future research and interventions to improve nutritional status in this population.

Preliminary Assessment of Risk of Exposure to Aflatoxin of Workers of the Almond Industry

Jesus Fernandez Bayo, UC Davis

Aflatoxins are naturally occurring chemicals produced by molds that can increase the risk of developing liver cancer. They are found on agricultural crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts. Workers may be exposed by inhaling dust generated during the handling and processing of contaminated soils, crops, and feeds. Aflatoxins are heavily monitored in foods but rarely in occupational settings. The objective of this study will be to identify potential environmental sources (soil, almond biomass, and personal protection equipment) where workers may have higher risk of exposure to aflatoxin.

Knights Landing Environmental Health Project

Skye Kelty, PhD student, UC Davis

Knights Landing is an unincorporated town in Yolo County surrounded by agriculture with >70% of residents employed in agriculture. The Knights Landing Environmental Health Project is a 3-year old student- and community-led research project that has included community-based participatory research led by students and community members and a mixed-methods study of pesticide exposures in the Knights Landing community. This funding will support the completion of the project and subsequent publication of the research and dissemination of results and materials to other agricultural communities.

Forces Required to Operate Controls on Agricultural All-Terrain Vehicles: Implications for Young Operators

Farzaneh Khorsandi, PhD, UC Davis

All-terrain vehicle (ATV) crashes are one of the leading causes of injury and death among youth in the agriculture industry. This project will measure the physical factors that may put youth at risk of injury or death while operating utility ATVs on farms. In this study, the forces required to operate controls on agricultural ATVs will be evaluated, other physical factors will be measured in the future studies. This study will contribute to the scientific bases for developing regulatory and advisory guidelines for operating agricultural ATVs and will provide suggestions for interventions with the goal of reducing the ATV-related injuries and fatalities, especially among children and adolescents.

Exploring Heat Exposure and Kidney Functioning in Migrant Farm Workers in the Arizona-Sonora Border Region

Nicolas Lopez-Galvez and Rietta Wagoner, PhD students, University of Arizona

Chronic kidney disease of undetermined cause is an epidemic that is disproportionately affecting young laborers in warm regions throughout the world. However, no studies have evaluated kidney functioning in migrant farmworkers in the Arizona-Sonora border region. This study will evaluate environmental and occupational factors that influence kidney function in Southern Arizona and assess kidney function in migrant farmworkers via urinalysis and questionnaires regarding demographics, employment, and lifestyle. The objective of this study is to gain a better understanding of the association between occupational risk factors and kidney functioning in migrant farmworkers in the US-Mexico border region.

2017–2018 Projects

Chemical Compositions of Thomas Fire Ash and its Potential Health Risks to Farmworkers During Agriculture Recovery

Sanjai J. Parikh and Xiaoming Wan, UC Davis

Ventura County agriculture suffered $171 million in damages to over 70,000 acres of land during the Thomas Fire. In the fire’s aftermath, farmworkers worked to clear debris and repair irrigation pipes. In this process, they may have been exposed to arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic elements. Investigators collected ash samples in the affected areas to evaluate health risks. This project is ongoing.

Healthcare in the San Joaquin Valley: Describing the Physician Population in a Diverse Agricultural Region

Michelle Ko, MD, PhD, UC Davis

Agricultural workers experience poorer health status and increased risk of work-related injury than the general public. Despite this, their access to health care is limited. Investigators conducted interviews with healthcare providers in the San Joaquin Valley to describe their experiences and identify factors that lead to successful recruitment and retention. Physicians reported receiving no training in agricultural worker health and many did not undergo residency training in the San Joaquin Valley. Participants reported difficulties caring for agricultural workers due to social and occupational challenges.

All-Terrain Vehicle Rollover Hazards and Interventions

Farzaneh Khorsandi, PhD, UC Davis

Statistics of accidents involving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) show that three in five fatalities occur in the agricultural sector. Thus, there is an urgent need to find practical ways to intervene and mitigate the number of injuries and fatalities in ATV incidents, including rollover accidents. The investigator aims to develop an autonomous ATV to simulate ATV rollover accidents. This, combined with a thorough review of ATV occupational fatalities or serious injuries in California in recent years, specifically in agriculture, will contribute to the development of new safety measures for ATV use and the reduction of worker injuries and fatalities as a result of these accidents.

Respiratory Health Effects of Airborne Particulate Matter from the Salton Sea

Savannah Mack, PhD student, UC Davis

The Salton Sea in southern California is shrinking with its only inflow coming from agricultural and industrial runoff. This, coupled with high asthma rates in Imperial County, has led the local community to advocate for research to understand the potential impact of polluted air on health coming from several different sources. The investigator brought high school students from the Imperial Valley study area to the lab at UC Davis to introduce the students to the scientific process and understand the relevance of the study for their community. Students attended presentations, observed researchers extract particulate matter from air samples and test for toxicity, and learned how to give effective presentations.

Reducing Exposure of Farmworkers to Soil Chemical Fumigants by Promoting Sustainable, Chemical-Free Alternatives

Jesus Fernandez Bayo, PhD, UC Davis

Biosolarization is an effective alternative to traditional soil fumigation methods widely used in agriculture for pest management. Chemical fumigation is dangerous for farmworker health and for the environment, and although there are sustainable alternatives, farmers don’t have access to information about the findings of recent research about the economic and health benefits of these practices. The investigator will develop outreach materials on the research findings of recent soil fumigation alternatives and the experiences of growers who have adopted these practices.

Poultry Health and Biosecurity Management through Youth Education in California

Megan Ouyang and Lindsey Garcia, PhD students, UC Davis

Students for One Health (SOH) is a UC Davis-based interdisciplinary student team that was established to address agricultural and food supply issues in single-family businesses in Sabana Grande, Nicaragua through the improvement of poultry health and management to increase meat and egg production. The investigators and SOH group will apply lessons learned in Nicaragua to develop an adaptable One Health curriculum in California and will engage local communities, in collaboration with 4-H groups, to pilot education programs and modify them to the needs of California’s rural communities.

Promoting the Health of Yolo County Farmworkers

Matthew Bridges, student, UC Davis

The research team partnered with Rural Innovations in Social Economics, Inc. (RISE, Inc.) to engage Yolo County community organizations to promote farmworker health through convening meetings; health fairs; and a Farmworker Advocacy Forum, a full-day workshop for students, professionals, and farmworkers. This project also gives undergraduates a first-hand experience in community organizing and coalition building.