By Kim Bojórquez Updated August 27, 2021 01:31 PM
Multiple wildfires, toxic smoke and a global pandemic haven’t prevented Marco Siorda, a 29-year-old farmworker, from working in the fields of Imperial County.
Despite being part of a critical workforce that puts food on the table for many Californians, Siorda said his employer doesn’t offer masks to protect him from inhaling toxic wildfire smoke. Instead, he said, he must bring a mask from home to prevent putting his health at risk.
It’s why some Democrats and members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus are pushing for a bill that would seek to increase workplace protections for farmworkers from poor air quality caused by California’s wildfires. TOP ARTICLESFirefighters stop forward progress of wildfire burning near Orange Cove
“While many of us had the ability to shelter indoors last week,” said co-author of the bill, Assemblymember Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, referring to large wildfires that burned near Sacramento. “Agricultural workers remained outdoors in smoky fields and orchards, harvesting and producing the crops that helped feed our state and helped feed our country.”
Assembly Bill 73, also known as the Farmworker Wildfire Smoke Protections Act, would designate agricultural workers as “essential workers” to allow them access to the California Department of Public Health’s stockpile of N95 masks. A similar bill was introduced last year by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, that allowed health care workers and other essential workers to access the state’s N95 mask stockpile amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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The bill would also charge Cal/OSHA to send a “wildfire strike team” to investigate wildfire smoke protection requirements at agricultural work sites when air quality standards reach dangerous levels. Additionally, the bill would require Cal/OSHA to distribute information on wildfire safety guidelines to farmworkers in both English and Spanish.
The bill was passed unanimously during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this week.
One 2020 study conducted by the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at UC Davis found the increase of severe wildfires in the state pose serious health risks for California’s agricultural workers exposed to ash. Researchers of the study recommended that policymakers pay close attention to the “health risks of farmworkers working in areas recovering from a wildfire and/or in areas with repeated wildfires.”
California employs an estimated 800,000 agricultural workers, according to a study released by the Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Each year, the state’s agricultural industry produces an estimated $50 billion in revenue.
Read more here: https://www.fresnobee.com/news/california/article253712098.html#storylink=cpy