Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing

Participating core and specialty programs: Authoritative Recommendations, Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies, Occupational Health Equity, Surveillance, and Translation Research.

Researchers, safety and health professionals, professional associations, foundations, and employers will use NIOSH information to prevent fixed airways diseases among agriculture and forestry workers.

NOTE: Goals in bold in the table below are priorities for extramural research.

  Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population Research Type
A Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Obliterative bronchiolitis (OB), Other diseases affecting airways such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) Exposure to mineral and organic dusts (esp. animal feed), and related gases and fumes Agriculture subsector (esp. concentrated animal feeding operations [CAFOs]) Basic/etiologic
B COPD, OB, Other diseases affecting airways such as HP Engineering controls and PPE for organic dusts and related gases and fumes Agriculture subsector(esp. CAFOs) Intervention


C COPD, OB, Other diseases affecting airways such as HP Exposures to pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other chemicals Agriculture subsector(esp. CAFOs) Basic/etiologic
D COPD, OB, Other diseases affecting airways such as HP Engineering controls and PPE for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and chemicals (used in new areas as vectors move north) Agriculture subsector (esp. CAFOs) Translation
E COPD, OB, Other diseases affecting airways such as HP Understanding risk factors for exposures and respiratory outcomes Agriculture (including aquaculture) and forestry subsectors Surveillance research

Activity Goal 5.1.1 (Basic/Etiologic Research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better understand relationship between exposures to dusts and chemicals, and fixed airways diseases among agriculture and forestry workers.

Activity Goal 5.1.2 (Intervention Research): Conduct studies to develop and assess the effectiveness of interventions to prevent airways diseases among agriculture and forestry workers.

Activity Goal 5.1.3 (Translation Research): Conduct translation research to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective interventions to prevent airways diseases among agriculture and forestry workers.

Activity Goal 5.1.4 (Surveillance Research): Identify new approaches to tracking the burden of hazardous exposures and adverse respiratory health outcomes in agriculture (including aquaculture) and forestry.


Farmworkers are notably exposed to several work-related respiratory hazards, including organic and inorganic dusts, gases in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), bacteria and endotoxins, nitrogen dioxide from silo gases and agrochemicals (e.g., pesticides, fumigants, and antibiotics) [Holguin and Schenker 2017]. From 1988 –1998 crop and livestock farmworkers had significantly elevated mortality for several respiratory conditions, with mortality for hypersensitivity pneumonitis being 10 times higher than expected among crop workers and 50 times higher in livestock workers [Greskevitch et al. 2007]. Studies have demonstrated that exposure to pesticides may also increase asthma risk [Eduard et al. 2004, Nordgren and Bailey 2016]. Chronic asthma is an important risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Livestock farmers and farm workers have an increased risk of chronic bronchitis, COPD and reduced lung function [Eduard et al. 2009; May et al. 2012]. Higher prevalence of COPD has been reported among livestock workers, mostly in swine, poultry and cattle industries [Eduard et al. 2009; Guillien et al. 2016; Marescaux et al. 2016; Monsó et al. 2004]. Restrictive lung function among workers in swine [O’Shaughnessy et al. 2009] poultry [Viegas et al. 2013], dairy [Reynolds et al. 2013] and more recently in the thoroughbred horse industry, have been reported [Flunker et al. 2017].

Data from 1988 through 1998 forestry workers have shown statistically significant increased mortality from pulmonary tuberculosis, chronic airway obstruction, and pneumonia [Greskevitch et al. 2007]. Significantly elevated mortality due to chronic airway obstruction was also observed in landscape and horticultural workers, and fishery workers [Greskevitch et al. 2007]. Respiratory hazards with potential exposure in forestry include dust, tannins, insects, fungi and mycotoxins, pesticides, gases and fumes [Donham and Thelin 2006].


Surveillance and research data have shown a wide variety of exposures leading to respiratory disease in agriculture and forestry workers. NIOSH and the NIOSH-funded Agricultural Safety and Health Centers are well fit, with experience and appropriate facilities, to continue research and public health activities in this area. In the last decade new chemical exposures, technologies, and procedures have introduced novel challenges concerning respiratory health in the workplace. Basic/etiologic research is needed to better characterize exposures to respiratory hazards in agriculture and forestry workers including dusts, related gases and fumes, and chemicals, and to better understand relationships between exposures and risk for fixed airways diseases. Intervention and translational research is needed to develop controls to reduce exposure to respiratory hazards, document effectiveness, and promote their use. It will be important to understand barriers and aids to implementing effective interventions. Finally improved surveillance methods are needed, specifically new sources of data for tracking hazardous exposures and adverse respiratory health outcomes in agriculture.

Donham K, Thelin A [2006]. Agricultural medicine: occupational and environmental health for rural health practitioners, Ames, IA: Blackwell Press.

Eduard W, Douwes J, Omenaas E, Heederik D [2004]. Do farming exposures cause or prevent asthma? Results from a study of adult Norwegian farmers. Thorax 59(5):381-386.

Eduard W, Pearce N, Douwes J [2009]. Chronic bronchitis, COPD, and lung function in farmers: the role of biological agents. CHEST 136(3):716-725.

Flunker JC, Clouser JM, Mannino D, Swanberg J [2017]. Pulmonary function among Latino thoroughbred horse farmworkers. Am J Ind Med 60(1):35-44.

Greskevitch M, Kullman G, Bang KM, Mazurek JM [2007]. Respiratory disease in agricultural workers: mortality and morbidity statistics. J Agromedicine 12(3):5-10.

Guillien A, Puyraveau M, Soumagne T, Guillot S, Rannou F, Marquette D, Berger P, Jouneau S, Monnet E, Mauny F, Laplante JJ [2016]. Prevalence and risk factors for COPD in farmers: a cross-sectional controlled study. Eur Respir J 47(1):95-103.

Holguin F, Schenker MB [2017]. Migrant Health. Achieving Respiratory Health Equality, Springer:57-64.

Marescaux A, Degano B, Soumagne T, Thaon I, Laplante JJ, Dalphin JC [2016]. Impact of farm modernity on the prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in dairy farmers. Occup Environ Med 73(2):127-133.

May S, Romberger DJ, Poole JA [2012]. Respiratory health effects of large animal farming environments. J Toxicol Environ Health 15(8):524-541.

Monsó E, Riu E, Radon K, Magarolas R, Danuser B, Iversen M, Morera J, Nowak D [2004]. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in never‐smoking animal farmers working inside confinement buildings. Am J Ind Med 46(4):357-362.

Nordgren TM, Bailey KL [2016]. Pulmonary health effects of agriculture. Current opinion in pulmonary medicine 22(2):144-149.

O’Shaughnessy PT, Donham KJ, Peters TM, Taylor C, Altmaier R, Kelly KM [2009]. A task-specific assessment of swine worker exposure to airborne dust. J Occup Environ Hyg 7(1):7-13.

Reynolds SJ, Nonnenmann MW, Basinas I, Davidson M, Elfman L, Gordon J, Kirychuck S, Reed S, Schaeffer JW, Schenker MB, Schlünssen V [2013]. Systematic review of respiratory health among dairy workers. J Agromedicine 18(3):219-243.

Viegas S, Faísca VM, Dias H, Clérigo A, Carolino E, Viegas C [2013]. Occupational exposure to poultry dust and effects on the respiratory system in workers. J Toxicol Environ Health A 76(4-5):230-239.

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2018