Officials working to protect Valley farmers amid poor air quality

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Central Valley is spending another day under smoke-filled skies as fire crews continue to battle 10 major wildfires burning across the state.

With smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires settling into the Central Valley, Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen they're doing all they can to protect Valley farmworkers.

Jacobsen says, "On a day like today, you're at a higher temperature, it feels like the humidity is higher than normal. You have the smoke layer above us that's at times coming to the Valley floor. Every hour, it seems to change. There are times it seems like the air quality seems to get better and it's nice blue skies and then within a very short time, the wind shifts and shoots the AQI through the roof.

Cal OSHA protections are in place, requiring outdoor employers to provide N95 respirators to their employees when the AQI is above 151

With more than 7,600 wildfires that have burned this year alone, it's not a matter of "if," but "when" air quality reaches those levels.

"Here in the Valley, we're seeing numbers that are in excess of 300 in the AQI, so it's a very critical time making sure we take the health and safety of our employees very seriously," Jacobsen said.

Much like they did in response to the pandemic, the Fresno County Farm Bureau continues to hand out N95 respirators as they are an essential part of the food chain. Something state lawmakers are hoping to formalize.

Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) says, "What our bill seeks to do is just build on this "first in the nation standard" that exists in California, that is, including farming agriculture workers to the list of essential workers. In case there are procurement issues moving forward, that they will be able to draw off of the state's stockpile of N95 masks."

AB 73 also calls for state agencies to provide training materials educating farmworkers on wildfire smoke safety.

Rivas went on to say, "Farmworkers today, they work harder and die younger than any other class of people, here in the United States, than any other workers and so as we continue to live through this global pandemic, as they continue to do the essential work to keep us fed."

Governor Newsom has until October 10 to sign the bill into law.
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