Alena Marie Uliasz and Savannah Mack answers questions about their research

Funded Small Grant Projects

2022-2023 Projects

Scratching the Surface: Improving the Health and Safety of Western Agricultural Workers by Assessing Inequities and Increasing Access to Dermatological Care

Alyssa Gwen Ashbaugh, MD, UC Davis

Migrant agricultural workers have a higher incidence of skin disorders than any other industry. In California, 97% identify as Hispanic/Latinx and face vast inequities in dermatological care. We aim to assess prevalence, incidence, burden, and risk factors of skin cancer and other dermatological conditions to improve the health and safety of rural western agricultural workers.

Assessing Occupational Health Hazards of Migrant Farmworkers in a Large Cannabis Greenhouse Farm in Arizona

Nicolas Lopez-Gálvez, MD, MPH, San Diego State University

In recent years, the agricultural cannabis industry has been recognized as one of the fastest growing job markets in the US. Cochise, Arizona, a county that borders Mexico, is home to one of the largest indoor growing facilities of cannabis in the US and provides stable job opportunities to the migrant Latinx community residing in this region. However, occupational health and safety research on cannabis workers, including occupational hazards and health-related outcomes, remains severely underdeveloped. Therefore, this study will characterize the occupational hazards experienced by farmworkers in this region and evaluate workers' exposure to hazardous chemicals. 

Improving the Performance of Agricultural Robots' Worker Detection Systems Under Adverse Light Conditions

Stavros Vougioukas, Ph.D., UC Davis

The safe interaction between humans and robots in agricultural fields is important as the industry increasingly deploys agricultural robots for labor-intensive tasks. Currently, robots use cameras and deep neural networks to detect and classify obstacles; however, cameras are affected by light conditions, causing degraded performance. Therefore, we will conduct a targeted study of the effect of adverse light conditions on the detection performance of neural networks with high dynamic range (HDR) cameras, which perform better under varied lighting conditions. 

Seasonal Comparisons of Acute Kidney Injury, Heath Exposure, and Heavy Metal Exposure in a Sonoran Agricultural Population

Rietta Wagoner, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Arizona

In recent decades, global research has highlighted high rates of kidney disease in agricultural populations. This phenomenon is referred to as chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology, and is likely due to multiple occupational exposures. Agricultural workers in the Arizona–Sonora border region are exposed to heat and metals on a daily basis. There is currently a lack of studies that have evaluated the relationship between heat stress, metal exposure, and decreased kidney functioning. Therefore, this study will assess agricultural workers' exposure to heat and metals. 

2020–2021 Projects

Continuous Surveillance of Agricultural Workers Occupational Health and Injuries

Tim Beatty, Ph.D., UC Davis

Computing non-fatal injuries for U.S. agricultural workers is challenging—existing estimates are widely considered to be too low and do not distinguish between workers in different sectors. Gaining a better understanding of the number and nature of these injuries is vital for developing effective policies to address them. This project will explore the feasibility of using numerous data sources to shed light on underreports as well as aspects of injuries not tabulated in standard statistics, including crop type and nature of employer.

The Impact of LCN2 in the Lung Inflammatory Response to Agricultural Dust Exposure

Stephanie Guardado, Ph.D. candidate, UC Riverside

Agricultural workers have an increased risk of developing debilitating respiratory inflammatory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) due to their frequent exposure to organic dust particles. Lipocalin-2 (LCN2) is an acute phase protein that plays crucial roles in mediating the immune response to inflammatory stimuli in multiple tissues. This project will examine the paradoxical roles of LCN2 in the immune response to extracts of dusts collected from swine confinement facilities (DE), in an effort to identify protective vs. harmful roles of LCN2 in the context of lung inflammation.

Evaluating the Stability of Agricultural All-Terrain Vehicles

Farzaneh Khorsandi, Ph.D., UC Davis

All-terrain vehicle (ATV) crashes are the second-leading cause of fatalities and injuries in agriculture in the U.S., with rollover incidents constituting about 85% of the deadly crashes. There are currently no practical solutions for the prevention of ATV rollover incidents in the United States, therefore engineering controls are needed to significantly decrease the severity of injuries. To determine ATV stability, this project aims to develop test stations for conducting static and dynamic handling tests of two ATV models.

Examining the Impact of Nanopesticides and Nanofertilizers on Farmworker Safety

Sanjai J. Parikh, Ph.D., UC Davis

In agriculture, pesticide and fertilizer formulations are used to encapsulate engineered nanoparticles (NPs) to enhance their efficacy and crop production. However, this may negatively impact occupational health, particularly in dust-prone areas. This study will examine inhalation risk of nanoagrochemicals (NACs) to farmworkers; an emerging occupational health concern for which the potential magnitude is largely unknown. Commercially available copper-based NACs will be evaluated for potential toxicity using bioassays and simulating exposure of NACs in soil-dust by quantifying their presence in PM2.5 and PM10 samples.

The Effects of Air Quality on Economics of Farm Worker Productivity

Daniel A. Sumner, Ph.D., UC Davis

This project will explore the effects of air quality on daily productivity of farm workers and the economic implications of these effects. This study will use 11 million hourly observations on thousands of berry farm workers across five crop years to statistically estimate the effect of daily air quality on productivity per hour, hours of work, and the resulting earnings. The project will compare productivity per hour and wages across four berry types, job tasks such as planting, weeding and harvesting, worker demographics, pay arrangements, and local air quality. Using the observations on the same worker over time we can measure how much an accumulation of poor air quality events, such as wildfire smoke, affect future productivity and earnings.

2019–2020 Projects

Evaluating the Implementation of an Emergency Regulation to Protect California’s Outdoor Workers from Wildfire Smoke Exposure

Kathryn C. Conlon, Ph.D., MPH, UC Davis

Following increasingly frequent and sizable wildfire events, the California Occupational Safety Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) passed an emergency regulation, which went into effect on July 29, 2019, to protect outdoor workers’ health from hazardous air quality related to wildfire smoke. The goal of this study is to systematically collect baseline data regarding farmworkers’ and growers’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices in response to the emergency regulation. Information collected through focus groups and surveys will be used to assess key factors influencing the implementation of the regulation.

Ability of Youth Operators to Reach Agricultural All-Terrain Vehicles Controls

Farzaneh Khorsandi, Ph.D., UC Davis and Alireza Pourreza, PhD, UC Davis

All-terrain vehicle (ATV) crashes are one of the leading causes of injury and death among youth in the agriculture industry. It has been hypothesized that many ATV-related injuries occur because children are assigned ATV-related jobs beyond their physical capabilities. In this study, the children anthropometric dimensions required to operate controls on agricultural ATVs will be evaluated. This study will contribute to the scientific basis for developing regulatory and advisory guidelines for operating agricultural ATVs and will provide suggestions for interventions with the goal of reducing ATV-related injuries and fatalities, especially among children and adolescents.

Occupational Exposure to Antimicrobial Resistant Bacteria and Genes in Dairy Farm Environments

Katie Lee, Ph.D. Student, UC Davis

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing public health crisis, as emergence of resistant bacteria endangers the efficacy of drugs used for disease treatment. The capacity of AMR to transverse across human, animal, and environmental sectors is concerning, and highlights the need to reduce its dissemination across these interfaces. Workers in the dairy industry are exposed to large environmental and livestock reservoirs of AMR, yet little is known on the transmission routes and associated health risks. This study will address the knowledge gap on occupational AMR exposure by characterizing the hazards present in manure matrices in the farm environment.

Policies of Exclusion: Understanding the Impact of the Current Immigration Policy on Self-Reported Health, Healthcare Access and Participation in Public Programs Among California Hired Mexican Agricultural Workers and Their Families

Alvaro Medel-Herrero, Ph.D., MBA, UC Davis

California agricultural employers annually hire over 800,000 unique workers; half of whom are Mexican undocumented immigrants. The new immigration policy has caused immense pressure on Mexican immigrants over the last two years, leading to increased fear of deportation and reduced interactions with any form of government and healthcare facilities in a community with alarmingly high rates of healthcare uninsured. This study will explore the impact of the new immigration policy on self-reported health, healthcare services access, and participation in public/welfare programs of California Mexican agricultural workers and their families.

Exploring Agriculture Workers' Exposure to and Experience with Wildfires

Laura Stock, MPH, UC Berkeley

The health of farmworkers is particularly at risk during wildfire events, due to exposure to wildfire smoke and lack of training and protections to effectively address their needs during wildfires. This study will conduct qualitative research in the farmworker community in the Napa/Sonoma region, to capture information from farmworkers and other stakeholders who experienced the 2017 wildfire on their attitudes and perception of risk related to wildfires and on their knowledge and experience of how to be prepared for a wildfire emergency.

Assessment of Worker Exposure to Antimicrobial Resistant Genes from Dairy and Beef Cattle Operations

Xiang (Crystal) Yang, Ph.D., UC Davis and Xunde Li, Ph.D., UC Davis

Antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria may be transmitted to farmworkers who are exposed to matrices within the farm environment or who are working directly with livestock. The AMR pathogens can lead to ineffective antibiotic treatment of infectious diseases in workers, increased morbidity, and possibly death. This study will characterize the resistome and associated microbiome for high-risk AMR matrices in dairy and beef cattle production environments and compare this complex AMR profile against the resistome on workers’ outerwear.

2018–2019 Projects

Metal and Inorganic Particulates in the Lungs of California Agricultural Workers

Jayveeritz Bautista, Graduate Student, UC Davis

In the Central Valley of California, agricultural workers bear a greater risk for respiratory disease due to the exposure to an ample variety of airborne toxicants, especially inorganic minerals or metals. This research will determine the correlation of particle content and composition to observed lung damage. Through the implementation of these approaches, specific particle types based on elemental composition and the presence of metals will be compared to observed lung damage to evaluate whether specific particulates and metal-containing compounds produce unique pathological changes in the lungs of farmworkers.

A Qualitative Study of the Mental Health and Alcohol Use of Indigenous Mexican Farmworker Youth

Seth Holmes, Ph.D., UC Berkeley

While research indicates increased rates of alcohol misuse and mental health problems among Latino/a farmworkers, little research has focused on indigenous Mexican farmworkers. To explore the risk and protective factors affecting the alcohol misuse, anxiety disorders, and depression in this understudied population, this project proposes in‐depth ethnographic research including collaborative participant observation, interviews, and
videography among indigenous Mexican farmworkers as they migrate between California, Washington State, and southern Mexico. The insights from this approach will result in policy‐relevant recommendations to best address the unique health and safety needs of indigenous Mexican farmworkers.

Developing a Test Station to Evaluate Performance of Crush Protection Devices in Agricultural ATV Rollover Accidents

Farzaneh Khorsandi, Ph.D., UC Davis

A distressing number of All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) rollover-related injuries and fatalities occur in the US agriculture sector. However, there is neither a practical solution for ATV rollover accidents nor standards for implementing the solution in the US. A properly designed and installed Crush Protection Device (CPD) is an intervention that may decrease agricultural ATV rollover-related injuries. This project will experimentally evaluate the performance of several CPDs in agricultural ATV rollover accidents.

Exploring Stressors and Psychological Distress of Hired Mexican Migrant Agricultural Workers in California

Alvaro Medel-Herrero, Ph.D., MBA, UC Davis

Agricultural workers experience high rates of stress-related psychiatric conditions and one of the highest suicide rates of any industry. Stressors and the psychological distress of agricultural workers are not well understood despite their importance. This study will explore and measure psychological distress of California hired Mexican migrant agricultural workers, analyze the access/utilization of mental health services, as well as identify relevant stressors via in-person interviews and information gathering information from 200 participants.

2017–2018 Projects

A Water Quality Assessment in a Farmworker Community

Marc Verhougstraete, Ph.D., University of Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is vital for the national production of livestock, hay, corn, pecans, beans, and cotton throughout the year. Despite this importance, those that are responsible for planting, maintaining, and harvesting these products do not have access to adequate potable water, adequate sewer services, and safe/sanitary housing conditions. This study investigated the presence of microbes and metals in an agricultural community’s drinking water and found that all metals and bacteria were below EPA safety thresholds. This project also included a survey of residents’ concern of drinking water quality. The majority of respondents did not think their household water was contaminated, but surprisingly, over half reported using bottled water as their primary drinking water source. Additional studies are underway or planned to continue to understand the community’s needs, evaluate water quality, and enhance infrastructure.

Leptospirosis Among California Agricultural Workers—A Silent Epidemic?

Alvaro Medel-Herrero, Ph.D., UC Davis

Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that affects humans and animals, is primarily an occupational disease, disproportionally affecting farmers. Leptospirosis is a reemerging infection in California; half of California cattle herds have been estimated to be infected with Leptospira, which is a serious threat to farmworkers. Active epidemiological surveillance has been repeatedly recommended, but no studies on Leptospira seroprevalence have been conducted in California agricultural workers. The goal of this project is to estimate the prevalence of leptospirosis among agricultural workers in the Central Valley of California and its relation to main exposure factors, including demographic information, sanitary conditions, occupational history, and contact with livestock, stagnant water, and moist soil. Investigators plan to use a questionnaire to collect information on exposure factors. To estimate leptospirosis prevalence, biological samples will be collected. Investigators expect to find a relatively high prevalence and close relationships between leptospirosis and occupation, environment, and poverty. Work on this project is ongoing.

Farm Incubator Agricultural Safety Training

Nathan Harkleroad, Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA)

ALBA is a non-profit organization based in the heart of the Salinas Valley, the ‘salad bowl of America.’ ALBA provides education and farm development opportunities to aspiring farmers—primarily immigrant farm laborers—on its 100 acres of certified organic farmland. WCAHS funding allowed ALBA to conduct ten worker safety workshops on topics including pesticide safety, tractor safety, heat illness prevention, and CPR. An estimated 80 participants comprised of aspiring farmers and ALBA staff participated in trainings. ALBA had 14 new farmers enter its Organic Farm Incubator in 2018. They received several workshops and tailgate trainings that included: pesticide safety, labor law, tractor safety, and CPR. All of them demonstrated the safe use of tractors and installed appropriate sanitations services for themselves and their families. A bilingual worker safety resource section for the ALBA’s website is underway and expected to be finalized in the coming months.

The Correlation of Metal-Specific Dusts to Lung Pathology in California Agricultural Workers 

Katie Edwards, Graduate Student, UC Davis

Agricultural workers in the Central Valley of California are exposed to a wide variety of airborne toxicants that place workers at increased risk for respiratory disease compared to the general population. Among these airborne toxicants are inorganic minerals (metals). This research examines whether metals present in the dust inhaled by farmworkers contributes to the observed lung damage. Lung tissue from 20 cases from the Fresno County Coroner’s Office are being analyzed. Analysis will determine lung damage, the quantity and identity of metals present in lung tissues, and whether metals of a specific type are associated with sites of lung tissue remodeling and fibrosis. Lung tissue analysis is ongoing.

Organizational Risk Factors for Sexual Harassment and the Consequences for Agricultural Work Teams

Monica Cooper, Ph.D., UC Davis

This project examined the relationship between incidence of sexual harassment, work team factors that facilitate sexual harassment, and the consequences for vineyard workers. Investigators surveyed 295 workers in Napa County. Of the female workers, 30% reported experiencing offensive comments, jokes, and gestures in their current employment. A further 9% of these women reported unwanted sexual attention and 2% reported sexual coercion. Consequently, harassed women were more likely to intend to leave their current jobs than non-harassed women. The harassment also had a negative effect on male co-workers, who were more dissatisfied with their jobs when working in a crew where sexual harassment occurred. Surveys indicated that younger women and seasonal workers may be particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment. Findings suggest that improvements to the structure and administration of sexual harassment trainings to agricultural workers should be explored and that sexual harassment should be addressed across the organization or the industry as a whole, rather than at the level of the work team that was the focus of this study.