FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. -- You can see, smell and even feel the smoke in the Central California skies from surrounding wildfires, but farmworkers are still on the job, working to put food on our tables.
"The last week, week and a half have been a really brutal week to be a farmworker," said United Farm Workers spokesperson Elizabeth Strater. "You have heat, you have wildfire smoke, you have a population that's already disproportionately affected by a virus that is respiratory."
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Ryan Jacobsen from the Fresno County Farm Bureau says that farm employees' health is vital to the industry, especially now during some of the busiest harvest weeks of the year.
"I have grown up in the ag industry and this is by far shaping up to be the most challenging year I have ever seen," said Jacobsen.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District forecasts Fresno and Merced to exceed an AQI of 150 Friday, which translates to air quality that's unhealthy for everyone.
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Once the air is in the unhealthy range, the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has requirements for employers of outdoor workers.
"If the AQI is 151 or higher, the employer is required to provide an appropriate respiratory equipment. So that is going to be a mask like an N95 mask," said Strater. "It is the employers responsibility to educate the workers on the risk."
The Fresno County Farm Bureau is set to pass out hundreds of thousands of N95 masks to Fresno farmworkers Friday to protect them from dangerous particulate matter in the air.
Workers can also pick up medical and cloth face masks that should be worn to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on days with better air quality.
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Bandanas will also be handed out with important safety information printed in English and Spanish.
"We can't do what we do without our employees. I mean they are truly the ones that bring the harvest to tables throughout this country and throughout the world," said Jacobsen. "This is a small token of trying to make sure they stay safe through this whole thing."
Masks will be distributed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Fresno County Farm Bureau located at 274 W Hedges Ave. Farmworkers are asked to call (559) 237 0263 ahead of time to register. If you work in a county outside of Fresno, you can contact your local farm bureau to get protective equipment.
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