Produce Exposed to Smoke
When assessing the safety of exposed produce, the difficulty is knowing what has been burning. If it is just vegetation smoke then it's probably safe to eat produce after rinsing off the ash (just the same as having a bonfire in your garden), although it might still taste/smell smoky.
If the air pollution has particulate matter from treated timber, tires, non-food grade oils, or anything plastic or chlorinated that burned it may include a mixture of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, and metals. Exposure to fire retardant may have also occurred.
An unpublished literature review on the health impacts of PAHs from traffic-related air pollution on lettuce grown in urban agriculture found that:
- Some PAHs can be absorbed into plant tissue, and so cannot be simply washed off.
- The health risk from eating these PAHs is a small proportion of the health impact from breathing them, and it is far below the EPA's level of concern for lifetime cancer risk.
- It is possible that the health benefit of eating the vitamins and nutrients in green leafy vegetables might outweigh that negligible negative impact.
- There is not enough research available on the cumulative impacts of air pollution on produce to make any solid conclusions about the health impacts.
Produce Safety after Urban Wildfire study conducted following Oct 2017 fires in Sonoma County.
Fires & Food Safety flyer by USDA FSIS, 2/2013.
Food Safety after Fire by USDA FSIS, 8/2013.
Some technical guidance tip sheets and power points that may be helpful can be found here:
- Soil Sampling, Risk Mapping & Exposure Prevention - Rob Bennaton
- Contaminants in Soils, Data Collection-Interpreting Test results and Minimizing Exposure by Cornell University
- Testing Laboratories in California
- UCCE Soils in Urban Agriculture
- Best Practices for Produce Safety After A Fire
- Produce Safety After a Fire Tool Kit
California agricultural employers, workers approach smoke concerns differently
UC Davis examines health and safety awareness around mounting threat
University of California - Davis
In 2018, California wildfires burned more than 1.8 million acres and caused smoke to drift hundreds of miles. As the frequency and intensity of wildfires increases with climate change, California agricultural workers are at greater risk of smoke exposure as they often have no option but to work outdoors.
A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, finds that while wildfires and smoke exposure are recognized by farmworkers and employers as a growing threat and safety concern, the means to address these concerns differs between the two groups.
"What stood out in this study is the substantial disparities between agricultural employers and farmworkers," said Heather Riden with the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at UC Davis.
Riden, who led the research in partnership with the California Institute for Rural Studies, said that while growers and employers expressed concern about poor air quality at the time of the study in 2018, many had no clear plans or protocols for measuring air quality or managing workers in such conditions. While the public is advised to stay indoors due to poor air quality during a wildfire, agricultural work often continues.
The study also found that when farmworkers were offered protective masks, many found them difficult to use while working due to heat-related discomfort and chafing. Others believed wearing two bandanas over the mouth and nose would provide just as much protection.
Farmworkers' experience is compounded by economic need.
"Many farmworkers will continue working, even in unsafe conditions, to support their families. They don't have many other options," said Riden.
Last year, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, enacted an emergency regulation requiring employers to take measures to protect workers from wildfire smoke when the Air Quality Index reaches 151 or greater, which is considered unhealthy. Riden said as CAL/OSHA begins to craft permanent regulations, she hopes it takes the study's findings into consideration.
"This highlights the need for better awareness for both agricultural employers and farmworkers about the health risks associated with wildfire smoke," said Riden. "Employers also need training materials and concrete steps they can take to protect workers."
To assist agricultural employers with meeting the requirements outlined in the newly adopted regulation, the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety developed training materials and an employer checklist.
The study was based on interviews and focus groups with California agricultural employers and workers in the Salinas, San Joaquin and Imperial valleys. Support for the study came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
For the complete article and amazing pictures check out: https://www.ucdavis.edu/health/california-agricultural-employers-workers-approach-smoke-concerns-differently
This content was developed by the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at UC Davis. For more information and to access their wildfire training materials, visit their wildfire training page: https://aghealth.ucdavis.edu/wildfires
What are the effects of fire and smoke and ash and heat and all the other potential things that might affect plants and animal products that we eat?????? Can you simply wash off contaminants? What impact on the soil, itself? Does anything special need to be done to start producing food again? Come learn more.
For more information about the program for to: