Wildfire Health Threats: Risk Factors for Farmers and Ranchers
Summary: Wildfires have become a persistent health threat for people working in agriculture. This webinar will focus on understanding the risks of exposure to wildfire smoke and potential strategies for responding to protect human health. Best practices for protecting worker health will be shared based on California's requirements along with resources for talking with agricultural workers about wildfire exposure risks.
This FREE webinar will be:
Thursday, June 17, 2021
12-1 pm Central Time or 10-11 Pacific Time
Intended Audience: farmers, ranchers, agricultural producers, agricultural workers, employers, agricultural safety and health professions, health professionals
Objectives: By the end of this webinar, attendees will be able to…
- Establish key concerns surrounding agricultural workers and exposure to wildfire smoke
- Identify existing information gaps and propose potential solutions
- Present preliminary efforts to develop a response framework targeted to farmers and ranchers
- List best practices for protecting worker health during wildfire conditions
- Identify at least one resource for sharing with ag workers related to wildfires
- Elena Austin, MS, ScD, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Washington
- Edward Kasner, MPH, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Washington
- Teresa Andrews, MS, Education and Outreach Specialist, Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, University of California Davis
Preparing for Disaster: Establishing an Ag Pass Program in Your Community
Possession of an Ag Pass during a wildfire or similar disaster allows farmers and ranchers access to areas that may otherwise be restricted to the public so that they can protect or care for agricultural assets (such as by irrigating crops or feeding, watering, and transporting livestock) or provide auxiliary support to emergency personnel (such as identification of access roads and water points).
It is crucial that those who may seek access to an evacuation zone establish communication—before a crisis—with all relevant local agencies so that authorities understand and support the process.
This publication describes how communities across California might approach such a program, recognizing that the structure and organization of any such program will ultimately depend upon the specific resources, politics, and relationships within any one community.
It is free for download: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8685#FullDescription
Such a program has been available in Ventura County. Now it is being extended to Santa Barbara Co. For a hands-on program that has been initiated in Santa Barbara County and will be available for applicants to obtain Ag Passes, attend one of these trainings, June 1 or 2./h2>
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause oxidative stress at the cellular level. Research shows that this way, amongst others, they inhibit the germination capacity of plants, produce cytotoxins or exert toxic effects on aquatic invertebrates. Environmentally persistent free radicals (EPFR) are potential precursors of ROS because they can react with water to form these radical species. "Therefore, EPFR are associated with harmful effects on the ecosystem and human health," explains Gabriel Sigmund, the lead investigator of the study.
"Our study shows that these environmentally persistent free radicals can be found in large quantities and over a long period of time in fire derived charcoal," reports Sigmund, environmental geoscientist at the Center for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science (CMESS) at the University of Vienna. In all 60 charcoal samples from ten different fires, the researchers detected EPFR in concentrations that exceeded those typically found in soils by as much as ten to a thousand times. Other than expected, this concentration remained stable for at least five years, as an analysis of charcoal samples showed which were gathered at the same location and over several years after a forest fire. "The more stable the environmentally persistent free radicals are, the more likely it is that they will have an impact on ecosystems over longer periods of time," explains Thilo Hofmann, co-author of the study and head of the research group.
Samples from fires in forest, shrubland and grassland spanning different climates
The researchers collected charcoal samples from fires of diverse intensity in boreal, temperate, subtropical, and tropical climates. They considered forest, shrubland and grassland fires and, thus, also different fuel materials (woods and grasses). The original material and the charring conditions determine the degree of carbonization. Consequently, both indirectly influence the extent to which EPFR are formed and how persistent they are. "The analyses show that the concentration of environmentally persistent free radicals increased with the degree of carbonization," Sigmund reports. Woody fuels favored higher concentrations. For these, the researchers were also able to demonstrate the stability of EPFR over several years. "We assume that woody wildfire derived charcoal is a globally important source of these free radicals and thus potentially also of harmful reactive oxygen species," adds Hofmann.
International collaboration across disciplines
"It is our collaboration with colleagues at Swansea University in the United Kingdom that enables us to make these highly differentiated statements," explains Sigmund. The wildfire experts at Swansea University are conducting global research into the effects of fire on environmental processes such as the carbon cycle and erosion. They have collected charcoal samples from around the world and sent them to Vienna for analysis, along with information on the timing, duration and intensity of the fires. CMESS researchers analyzed the samples in collaboration with Marc Pignitter of the Faculty of Chemistry using electron spin resonance spectroscopy (ESR spectroscopy). ESR spectroscopy made it possible to quantify the environmentally persistent free radicals in the studied material and to identify their adjacent chemical structures.
Questions about consequences for the ecosystem
The study has provided insights, but also raised further questions: The fact that environmentally persistent free radicals occur in such high concentrations and remain stable over several years was surprising. In future studies, the researchers are planning to also assess the consequences this may have for the environment. "To what extent is this a stress factor for microorganisms after a fire? How does it affect an ecosystem? The study is an impetus for further research," reports Sigmund.
G. Sigmund, C. Santín, M. Pignitter, N. Tepe, S. H. Doerr, T. Hofmann, Environmentally persistent free radicals are ubiquitous in wildfire charcoals and remain stable for years. Communications Earth & Environment (2021),
Katie Wollstein (Rangeland Fire Regional Specialist) and Jacob Powell (OSU Agricultural Extension Agent) are hosting a webinar on fire preparedness for farmers and ranchers. Please advertise in venues you feel appropriate. Specifics and registration information is in the attached flyer.
Agricultural Wildfire Refresher Webinar, Wednesday, February 10th, noon to 1:30
This free webinar with OSU Extension will cover wildfire safety and prevention for agricultural operations and small landowners. The Lone Pine Rangeland Fire Protection Association and their partners will discuss their fire prevention plan. In addition, the webinar will feature a roundtable discussion with local fire managers in North Central Oregon on what producers should do when they have a wildfire and how they can collaborate with first responders in suppression efforts. This webinar is one option for producers to attend an annual agricultural wildfire refresher in 2021 to meet Oregon OSHA requirements for producers with employees who engage in fire suppression on their property. Certificates will be available for attendees. Additional requirements are for producers and employees to receive some sort of initial wildfire training, along with having an emergency action plan for medical and fire emergencies, fire prevention plan, and Job Hazard Analysis form. See attached the flyer and click on this link to register: https://beav.es/Jqy