Respiratory health is a major concern for farmers, farmworkers, and their families because they can be exposed to high levels of air pollution while working outside due to environmental dust, transportation, and/or agricultural practices. They can also be exposed to allergens that may exacerbate respiratory disease from working in close proximity to animals, such as densely poplulated dairy or chicken farms.
Some of the highest rates of asthma in the country are in the California Central Valley, which is the primary center for agricultural production, but also has some of the country's highest air pollution levels. WCHAS research has included studies of pneumoconios (small airway disease) in young, male California farmworkers from agricultural dust exposure, whether farmworkers are at increased risk for Valley fever (coccidiodomycosis), and the effect on worker exposure to toxic air pollutants from new chicken caging laws in California (and elsewhere), as well as on dairy farms.
WCAHS research on respiratory health has resulted in the development of state-of-the-art methods to collect particulate matter air pollution from urban and rural areas, identify its source, and assess its toxicity both on its own and when paired with an allergen in an asthmatic mouse model.
New topics of study for WCAHS investigators include adult onset asthma, particularly in women in the California Central Valley and identifying which specific agricultural practices produce the greatest risk of particulate matter exposure to agricultural workers.