With fire season upon us and the now annual plumes of smoke everywhere, pouring into our lungs and making us forget what summer in the Northwest used to be like, the Washington Farm Bureau is making sure that farmworkers get maximum exposure to smoke.
In mid-June, the Washington Farm Bureau, the state’s largest agricultural lobby group, began calling on its members to push back against emergency wildfire protections for workers—ahead of what is already shaping up to be a particularly severe fire season in the Pacific Northwest.
“Immediate adoption of a rule is not necessary for the preservation of public health, safety, or general welfare,” the organization wrote in a comment to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (LNI), on behalf of its 47,000 members, many of them farm owners. “There is not sufficient literature demonstrating an acute health hazard or any adverse health outcome due to occupational exposure to wildfire smoke.”
On June 14, LNI released a draft of proposed safety rules meant to protect people who work outdoors from exposure to wildfire smoke. The rules would require employers to monitor and inform workers of hazardous conditions, and to provide respiratory protection when pollution levels cross a certain threshold. The proposal is an interim measure while LNI embarks on a lengthier process to adopt permanent wildfire smoke protections.
LNI attributed its rulemaking efforts to concerns about the health risks posed by wildfires, which have grown more frequent and powerful on the West Coast in recent years.
“The agency recognizes the hazard of wildfire smoke exposure is increasing every year and is now potentially presenting important health risks to all outdoor workers including those in construction and agriculture,” it wrote in rulemaking filings.
In response, the Washington Farm Bureau asked members to submit comments to oppose the protections, which it called “an unacceptable abuse of power.” (A comment submitted by the organization after press time has been appended to this story.)
Last summer, Washington saw the second most devastating wildfire season on record, burning over 713,000 acres. That’s equivalent to more than half a million football fields. At the time, The Counter interviewed a farm worker in Tri-Cities, Washington, who was harvesting apples amid the fires. He said that he had only a cloth mask to protect himself, and that his employer did not offer breaks despite the hazardous air quality.
“I just push through the sore throat and the headache, but I do worry about the future, health-wise,” he told The Counter.
You know does not care the future, health-wise? The agricultural industry, which does not care if you live or die.