Funded Small Grant Projects

Alena Marie Uliasz and Savannah Mack answers questions about their research

In 2017–2018, five projects were funded and awardees included junior investigators, a graduate student, and new investigators to the center (Projects 1–5 below). Awards ranged in amounts from $10,000 to $30,000.

A second call for proposals was announced for short-term and rapid response projects. Seven projects were funded and completed in Summer 2018 (Projects 6–12).

Small Grant Project 1: A Water Quality Assessment in a Farmworker Community

Marc Verhougstraete, PhD, 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.

Small Grant Project 2: Leptospirosis Among California Agricultural Workers—A Silent Epidemic?

Alvaro Medel-Herrero, PhD, 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.

Small Grant Project 3: 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.

Small Grant Project 4: 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.

Small Grant Project 5: Organizational Risk Factors for Sexual Harassment and the Consequences for Agricultural Work Teams

Monica Cooper, PhD, 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.

Small Grant Project 6: 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.

Small Grant Project 7: 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.

Small Grant Project 8: 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.

Small Grant Project 9: 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.

Small Grant Project 10: 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.

Small Grant Project 11: 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.

Small Grant Project 12: 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.