In this interactive activity adapted from the National Library of Medicine, explore the environmental hazards found on farms, including agricultural runoff, barns and silos, crop fields, farm animals, farm ponds, feeding operations, homes, landfills, and off-road vehicles.
There are health hazards found everywhere people live, work, and play—and farms are no exception. From small family farms to large-scale industrial farms, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. Hundreds of farm workers die each year (mostly on industrial-scale farms, although hazards also exist on small family farms). Farm equipment and machinery are a significant cause of both nonfatal and fatal injuries, as are farm animals. Agricultural workers are also susceptible to physical trauma from heavy lifting or repetitive motions. There are less obvious physical hazards in the farm environment as well. For example, high noise levels from power equipment such as tractors and chainsaws can cause permanent hearing loss.
In addition to physical hazards, there are many biological and chemical hazards found on a farm. Organic dusts and molds can cause respiratory problems such as allergies, asthma, bronchitis, farmer's lung disease, and organic toxic dust syndrome. The fermentation of crops in silos produces dangerous gases, such as nitrogen dioxide, which can cause lung damage and asphyxiation (by displacing oxygen in the silo). The decomposition of manure also produces gases such as ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide, which are toxic in high concentrations. Farm animals can spread parasites and other disease-causing organisms such as salmonella and E. coli. In addition, pesticides (which are used to control pests such as insects, weeds, and fungi) contain hazardous ingredients that may lead to a variety of health problems, including dizziness, headaches, skin and respiratory problems, endocrine disruption, cancer, and birth defects.
Farmers can take precautions to protect themselves and their workers from environmental hazards. For example, protective clothing and equipment can minimize exposure to pesticides, which commonly enter the body through inhalation and skin contact. Proper maintenance of machinery and equipment and good ventilation can also make a big difference in the health and safety of farm workers.
However, the environmental hazards found on farms extend beyond the people who work there; the hazards can affect people who live in the vicinity as well. Many farm-related hazards have been exacerbated in recent years with the adoption of industrial-scale farming. Large farms that grow single crops require increased use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which can run off into the surroundings. Animal feeding operations (AFOs) are farms where animals are raised in a confined space and at high density. Confined animals are more disease prone and require increased use of antibiotics, which can lead to drug-resistant strains of bacteria. In addition, the waste from the animals is stored in lagoons or pits and can be used as fertilizer, but the decay of manure produces dangerous gases. Furthermore, animal waste contains harmful microbes that can contaminate groundwater, lakes, and streams. To mitigate these problems, storage areas should be well maintained and ventilated, and fertilizer and pesticides should be properly applied so that runoff does not contaminate nearby water supplies. To better help protect public health, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works with the agricultural industry to develop standards such as regulations for air emissions and nutrient (manure) management plans for AFOs.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.