Air Quality

Farmworkers Toil During Poor Air Quality Brought on by Wildfires

CAUSE is an organization pushing for stronger laws to protect workers during wildfire events.

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As hundreds of fires rage from the Bay Area to here in Ventura County, the resulting smoke has created a hazy "soup" that sometimes obliterates entire hillsides.

Some were able to do on Friday what health officials had been recommending and “reduce outdoor activities if you can see or smell smoke."

But not everyone has that option. 

Lucy, for one, works picking strawberries in the Oxnard area, and she explained how the smoke irritates her eyes and other parts of her body, including her lungs. 

But she has to work, she said, to feed her family and pay the rent. 

Farmworkers aren't the only ones working during what some health officials said is seriously bad air quality. NBC LA cameras captured people on rooftops in Claremont, and also construction crews.

“Many are not aware of the long-term implications of lung cancer because of this wildfire smoke,” Lucas Zucker, a farmworkers' advocate, said. 

Zucker is not a doctor, but he heads up an advocacy organization called Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, also known as CAUSE. 

Zucker said farmworks are risking their lives being out in those air conditions. 

He said many workers like Lucy are aware of throat irritation or a cough, but they need to be educated about how the visible haze can make them more susceptible to COVID-19, which attacks the lungs.

“Farmworkers now are in the ‘perfect storm’ of the pandemic and the wildfires,” Zucker said. 

When asked if she's offered an N-95 mask at work, which health experts say does a much better job at filtering out harmful particulates, Lucy said she wasn’t. 

Neither do her co-workers. Instead, she uses a cloth mask. 

“We need our state and our local agencies out there -- boots on the ground -- making sure employers are following these safety precautions,” Zucker said. 

CAUSE is pushing for stronger laws to protect workers during wildfire events, a process Zucker said is underscored by what's happening in the fields right now.

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