HHS to target heat, smoke effects on farmworkers

By Ariel Wittenberg | 03/18/2024 06:56 AM EDT

Department leaders will meet throughout the spring and summer to help protect farm laborers from heat and wildfire smoke.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra gestures during a meeting last month.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra described the risks faced by his father, a farmworker in California. Butch Dill/AP

A group of the nation’s health experts will regularly meet this spring and summer in an effort to better protect farmworkers from extreme heat and wildfire smoke.

The new initiative is the brainchild of Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, whose father picked crops in California farm fields.

“This is personal to me because my father was a farmworker and had to work out in those conditions,” Becerra said during a press conference this week about President Joe Biden’s proposed budget. “There is no one in America who should have to die because of exposure to heat and smoke, but more and more, it is getting to that point.”


Agriculture workers are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of heat and smoke. Outside activities such as digging irrigation ditches and picking crops can raise body temperatures and increase respiratory rates, making workers more susceptible to heat stroke.