Public Health Community Advisory – This year’s hot, dry, drought conditions have produced a triple threat to the safety, security, and health of the agriculture community, with an increase in fire danger, significantly reduced yield in crops, and dangerous levels of aflatoxin in the corn crop. The gritty combination of dry top soil and gusty winds greeted this year’s participants of Husker Harvest Days (HHD). Taking place in the middle of a dry corn field just west of Grand Island on September 11-13, HHD prides itself as being one of the largest farm shows in the United States. As farm and ranch families were blown into the hospitality tent, they were greeted by representatives of UNMC’s College of Public Health and the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH). For the 19th year, Dr. Susanna Von Essen and her dedicated team of UNMC students, UNMC volunteers, and community volunteers have measured lung function and provided N95 respirators to participants, many of whom come back year after year for this personalized care. This year Dr. Von Essen and her team performed 230 lung function tests, providing a gauge of respiratory health to each person who was tested. Just a few steps away from the respiratory testing booth, visitors found a booth manned by CS-CASH representatives and members of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities. Those stopping by this booth received pertinent and timely information regarding the health and safety dangers created by this year’s drought conditions.
Aflatoxins are potent toxins produced by molds. These toxins are found in grain dust, particularly during drought conditions. Because of the potential health risk to humans, the use of the correct respiratory protection with the correct fit was discussed and demonstrated by the CS-CASH team, using a display of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved respirators. Bags designed to properly store respirators and flyers outlining the dangers of grain dust were distributed to over 800 visitors. In addition to providing outreach education and materials to the agricultural community, the CS-CASH team interviewed more than 100 farmers as part of a funded project designed to determine the needs for safety and health information in different demographic groups of farmers. As the HHD event visitors left the hospitality tent, they could breathe easier, armed with the knowledge of how well their lungs were functioning and understanding the skills and equipment needed to properly protect them against agricultural hazards in the future.
This article was written by Ellen Duysen, MPH, coordinator in the UNMC COPH Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.