WCAHS Funds Seven Summer Projects as Part of a Short-Term Funding Cycle

Lab Sampling
Photo by Kara Schilli

This summer, seven agricultural health and safety projects will be carried out around the Western Region with funding from the Wester Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS). In March, WCAHS offered short-term funding through grants of up to $7,500 for research and outreach projects that address agricultural health and safety issues in California, Arizona, Hawaii, and Nevada. Specifically, WCAHS sought to award investigators in need of funding to gather additional project data; jump-start urgent research topics; explore the feasibility of new ideas; convene stakeholders on new or emerging issues; and develop outreach, training, and educational materials. 

Potential health risk to farmworkers from Thomas Fire ash

Ventura County agriculture suffered $171 million in damages to over 70,000 acres of land. 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. WCAHS will fund Drs. Sanjai Parikh and Xiaoming Wan of the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis to collect ash samples in the affected areas and evaluate health risks. Wildfires continue across California, often in close proximity to agricultural lands, and this study will contribute to a better understanding of the unique risks to agricultural workers’ health and safety. 

Healthcare provider shortage in California’s largest agricultural region

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. Dr. Michelle Ko, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis, is conducting interviews with healthcare providers in the San Joaquin Valley to describe their experiences and identify factors that lead to successful recruitment and retention. She will also describe the supply of physicians in the region, particularly those accepting Medicaid and uninsured patients, many of whom are likely to be part of the agricultural workforce. The WCAHS award will enable Dr. Ko to conduct additional interviews and specifically query physicians about their experiences in caring for agricultural workers. 

ATVs are useful, but sometimes dangerous, farm utility vehicles

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. WCAHS is funding Dr. Farzaneh Khorsandi, Assistant Safety and Health Engineering Specialist in the College of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, 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. 

High school students visit UC Davis to study air quality

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 including agricultural, desert dusts and the exposed shoreline of the Salton Sea. Savannah Mack, a PhD student in the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology Graduate Group at UC Davis, sought funds to supplement her ongoing research funded by the Environmental Health Science Center at UC Davis. WCAHS awarded Ms. Mack with funding to bring high school students from the study area to her lab at UC Davis in July 2018. The goal, she says, is to “allow the students to see the scientific process close-up and understand the relevance of the study for their community.” Students attended presentations on public health and the agricultural workforce, observed researchers extract particulate matter from air samples and test for their toxicity, and learned how to give effective presentations. The students will give a presentation to their community about their visit to UC Davis upon their return.

Making the case for biosolarization, a fumigation alternative

Biosolarization is an effective alternative to traditional soil fumigation methods widely used in agriculture for pest management. Dr. Jesus Fernandez Bayo, Assistant Researcher in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, believes more farmers would be open to alternatives to fumigation if they better understood the process. Chemical fumigation is dangerous for farmworker health and for the environment, and although there are sustainable alternatives, Bayo says that “farmers mainly trust chemical fumigation, in part because they don’t have access to information about the findings of recent research about the economic and health benefits of practices like soil biosolarization (SBS) and anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD).” He was awarded funds to develop outreach materials on the findings of recent soil fumigation alternatives research and the experiences of growers who have adopted these practices. 

UC Davis One Health students collaborate with local 4-H groups

Students for One Health (SOH), a UC Davis-based interdisciplinary student team that was established to originally address agricultural and food supply issues in single-family businesses located Sabana Grande, Nicaragua through improving poultry health and management to increase meat and egg production. WCAHS funded students of veterinary medicine, Megan Ouyang and Lindsey Garcia, working under the leadership of Dr. Rodrigo Gallardo, to apply lessons learned in Nicaragua to develop an adaptable One Health curriculum in California. These students and the SOH group will engage local communities in California, 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

Led by UC Davis undergraduate Matthew Bridges, several students are partnering with Rural Innovations in Social Economics, Inc. (RISE, Inc.) to engage Yolo County community organizations to promote farmworker health. WCAHS funding will support several convening meetings; health fairs; and a Farmworker Advocacy Forum, a full-day workshop for students, professionals, and farmworkers. The project also gives undergraduates a first-hand experience in community organizing and coalition building. 

Do you have a project idea that addresses agricultural health and safety issues in the West? A request for proposals is currently open for outreach and education projects. Proposals are due by August 24th at 5pm PT.