Core Research Projects

Fadi Fathallah presents research at annual symposium

WCAHS has five core research projects which are funded for five years.

wheat harvesterDifferential Characterization of Air Pollutant Emissions & Associated Toxicity from Common Agricultural Practices 

PIs: Kent Pinkerton, PhD and Keith Bein, PhD, UC Davis

This project aims to improve farmworker health with a focus on air quality. Air pollution (particulate matter emissions) from agricultural practices differs in physical and chemical composition, which determines its toxicity and resulting health effects.

Particulate matter from California’s San Joaquin Valley and Imperial Valley is being collected at various farming sites with different labor-intensive crops. The impact of these particles on respiratory health is being studied.

Strategic planning meetings with two partnering community groups, Comite Civico del Valle of the Imperial Valley and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, have occurred. In addition, presentations have been made to two high schools in the Imperial Valley about the study and to gauge interest in students participating in parts of the study (research trailer maintenance, particle filter collection, site visit or video conference with Pinkerton lab at UC Davis, etc.)

Results will be used to educate farmers, farmworkers, advocacy and industrial groups and regulatory agencies through education, translation and outreach on which common agricultural practices appear to be most hazardous to health.

Contact:  Kent Pinkerton ( & Keith Bein (

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biosolarization in a fieldReducing Toxin Exposure for Workers in Western Agriculture: Development of Sustainable Alternatives to Soil Fumigation

PI: Christopher Simmons, PhD, UC Davis

Many conventional soil fumigants used to protect crops in Western agriculture have been identified as being toxic and/or carcinogenic.

Biosolarization is a new technique that has the potential to serve as an alternative to toxic soil fumigation and is less damaging to health and the environment. This project tests whether biosolarization is effective in controlling agricultural pests and if it can substitute for soil fumigation for pest management.

Experiments were conducted to examine biosolarization in the context of the California almond industry, which accounts for a large percentage of the nation’s almond production. Volatile fatty acids (VFAs) were found accumulated in the biosolarized orchard soils. VFAs are generally less toxic than conventional fumigants, which benefits orchard workers.

Contact: Christopher Simmons (

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stawberry harvest workersErgonomic and Biomechanical Evaluation of Mechanical and Robotic Strawberry Harvest-Aids

PI: Fadi Fathallah, PhD, UC Davis

Workers who harvest strawberries can suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, especially low back disorders (LBD). Interventions to reduce LBDs, while maintaining acceptable productivity levels are needed.

This project evaluates the ergonomics, biomechanics, and productivity of using mechanical and robotic strawberry harvest-aids to protect workers from LBDs while maintaining yields.

The researchers built a personal harvest aid for use with a standard strawberry picking cart. The device measures the harvest weight and is linked to a GPS module to produce yield maps. The team also produced surveys to assess musculoskeletal status in workers while using the harvest aid in comparison to traditional strawberry picking.

Project results will provide engineers and strawberry growers with information on the optimal balance between productivity and workers’ health, guidelines for speed settings of large, multi-person harvest-aid machines, and rest breaks for crews.

See the newest article in "Resource" A Publication of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers highlighting the work of Dr. Fathallah and Victor Duraj on Robotic Strawberry Harvest Aids.

Contact: Fadi Fathallah (

Download project description

Worker drinking waterHeat Illness Prevention in Farmworkers: Translation of Economic, Socio-cultural, and Physiological Factors into Effective Interventions

PI: Marc Schenker, MD, MPH, UC Davis

Despite major campaigns to reduce heat-related illness (HRI) in agricultural workers, deaths and illnesses still occur at higher rates than in other industries where workers are exposed to hot environments.

This project engages farm organizations and workers in a collaborative effort to better understand and address the complexities of HRI prevention.

A prototype of a mobile phone app to reduce the risk of HRI will be evaluated by farmworker supervisors in November. Train-the-Trainer (ToT) workshops for supervisors concentrating on HRI prevention and hydration have been evaluated by key interviews of a sample of the 73 attendees in 2017.  Components of the training have been tested with farmworkers and evaluated by focus groups.

Results will provide employers with information on the economic impact of HRI. The project will also include development of two mobile phone apps to help supervisors with primary prevention of HRI and evaluation of any in-field symptoms. A ToT manual with effective HRI prevention strategies and materials will also be published.

Contact: Marc Schenker ( & Chelsea Langer (

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dairy cowsReducing Occupational Exposure to Zoonotic Pathogens in California Dairy Farmworkers 

PI: Edward R. Atwill, DVM, MPVM, PhD

This project aims to reduce dairy farmworker exposure to infectious diseases spread through infected cattle.

 Occupational tasks that substantially elevate the risk of exposure to zoonotic pathogens will be characterized. Workplace controls, personal protective behaviors and equipment that reduce the risk of acquiring zoonotic disease will be identified.

 Two working dairies have agreed to participate in the study. Laboratory methods are being refined to detect bacteria pathogens.

Knowledge gained and training materials developed for zoonotic disease risk reduction will be readily applicable to farmworkers on dairies located not just in California, but across the United States.

Contact: Rob Atwill ( and Jennifer Chase (

Download project description