Twenty-eight workers at the Topaz and California Valley solar farms under construction near the Carrizo Plain have fallen ill with valley fever since work began. However, state investigators declined to state as of yet whether the workers contracted the disease on the job.
Valley fever triggers acute respiratory symptoms and can lead to death in rare instances. Airborne exposure to a spore native to the desert dusts of Carrizo and the San Joaquin Valley causes the disease.
Steve Krum, a spokesman for Topaz developer First Solar, said no work-related diagnosis of valley fever has been reported to the company as a result of the investigation or the initial complaints. The L.A. Times reported May 1 that at least one of the sick workers inhaled dust while digging at the nearby California Valley photovoltaic facility.
The California Department of Public Health provided New Times few details of the investigation, which remains ongoing.
Valley fever has become a growing problem in the southwestern United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reported cases of valley fever rose 850 percent between 1998 and 2011.
State epidemiologist Gil Chavez said preliminary data from 2012 show a decline in the number of cases reported in California from previous years. Nevertheless, recent outbreaks in two California prisons may soon lead to the court-ordered relocation of several thousand inmates.
The spore that causes valley fever takes to the air more readily in especially dry and windy conditions.