Outside workers in Bay Area power through poor air quality, some saying they had no choice

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Although the air quality in the Bay Area was considered to be among the worst in the world on Friday, that didn't stop workers who spend the majority of their day outside from going about their business. Some say they simply had no choice but to be in the smoke.

"We're out here, we gotta make money, we gotta give food to everybody because that's important, that's how we live," said Alejandra Hernandez, an employee at Medina Berry Farm, who was setup at the Downtown San Jose Farmers' Market on Friday.

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Merchants who were already struggling because of the pandemic are now being hit hard by the dirty air. With the air quality index showing unhealthy levels for much of the Bay Area, health experts urged the public to avoid overexertion.

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"The deeper that you inhale, the easier it is for those particles to go all the way down to the base of your lungs and cross over into the blood stream," said Dr. Mary Prunicki, director of air pollution and health research at Stanford University's Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research.

Cal/OSHA, the state program responsible for enforcing the state's laws and regulations pertaining to workplace safety and health, says employers are required to provide an N-95 mask to their employees for voluntary use if the AQI for particulate matter 2.5 is above 150, and if they're outside for longer than an hour.

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However, if the AQI reaches 500, employees would be required to wear a respirator while outside on the job. Officials say other precautions should be taken when possible.

"Employers have to take measures to protect employees that includes engineering and administrative controls, such as moving work indoors where the air is filtered, moving the location of the work," said Eric Berg, deputy chief of health for Cal/OSHA's research and standards activities.

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