The Problem: Burning


Health Impacts

Sugarcane burning emissions have a negative impact on public health in areas downwind of the fields. Research evaluating the impact of sugarcane burning on public health has consistently shown a direct or indirect effect on two domains: cancer and respiratory disease. The effects were noticeably pronounced in children and the elderly.

First, sugar field burning contributes to particulate matter pollution. Particle pollution — especially fine particles — contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including: premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing. Source:

Businessman Coughing with Flu

In addition, in 2010, researchers from the University of Florida conducted a study sponsored by the Palm Beach County Health Department to determine emission factors for various toxins coming from pre-harvest sugar cane burning and identified contaminants on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air pollutant list. Emissions factors were determined for a number of harmful air pollutants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carbonyl and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as fine particle particulates (PM2.5, or particulates with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less), organic carbon (OC), and elemental carbon (EC) in a combustion chamber. The researchers detected hazardous air pollutants the EPA is required to regulate, including naphthalene, formaldehyde, benzene and styrene. These toxins can cause impacts ranging from drowsiness and headaches to neurological and liver damage. Source: 

The medical research to date paints a compelling picture. Please contact us to request full texts:


November 2016 – Particulate matter produced during commercial sugarcane harvesting and processing: A respiratory health hazard?

April 2016 – Black Carbon and Particulate Organic Toxics Emitted by Sugarcane Burning in Veracruz, México

October 2015 – Association between sugar cane burning and acute respiratory illness on the island of Maui

September 2015 – Cytogenetic biomonitoring of occupationally exposed workers to ashes from burning of sugar cane in Ahome, Sinaloa, México

August 2015 – Mutagenicity profile of atmospheric particulate matter in a small urban center subjected to airborne emission from vehicle traffic and sugar cane burning

August 2015 – Presence of PAHs in water and sediments of the Colombian Cauca River during heavy rain episodes, and implications for risk assessment

July 2015 – Air Pollution-Induced Vascular Dysfunction: Potential Role of Endothelin-1 (ET-1) System

November 2014 – Effect of particles of ashes produced from sugarcane burning on the respiratory system of rats

September 2014 – Burnt Sugarcane Harvesting Is Associated with Acute Renal Dysfunction

September 2014 – Low birth weight at term and the presence of fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide in the Brazilian Amazon: a population-based retrospective cohort study

August 2014 – Acute Effects of Particulate Matter and Black Carbon from Seasonal Fires on Peak Expiratory Flow of Schoolchildren in the Brazilian Amazon

June 2014 – Airborne Polycyclic Hydrocarbons in a Medium-sized City Affected by Pre-Harvest Sugarcane Burning and Inhalation Risk for Human Health

May 2014 – Association between Sugar Cane Burning and the Prevalence of Asthma, Atopy and Pulmonary Function Changes in Rural Honduran Children

April 2014 – The Effect of Air Pollution on Pneumonia-Related Emergency Department Visits in a Region of Extensive Sugar Cane Plantations: a 30-Month Time-Series Study

February 2014 – Diurnal and nocturnal measurements of PAH, nitro-PAH, and oxy-PAH compounds in atmospheric particulate matter of a sugar cane burning region

January 2014 – Respiratory toxicity of repeated exposure to particles produced by traffic and sugar cane burning

October 2013 – Emissions Generated by Sugarcane Burning Promote Genotoxicity in Rural Workers: a Case Study in Barretos, Brazil

June 2013 – Sugar Cane Burning and Human Health: a Spatial Difference-in-Difference Analysis

January 2013 – Sugar cane manufacturing is associated with tuberculosis in an indigenous population in Brazil

October 2012 – Influence of Sugarcane Burning on Indoor/Outdoor PAH Air Pollution in Brazil

October 2012 – Burnt Sugarcane Harvesting: Particulate Matter Exposure and the Effects on Lung Function, Oxidative Stress, and Urinary 1-Hydroxypyrene

October 2012 – The Central American Epidemic of CKD

September 2012 – Burnt sugarcane harvesting – cardiovascular effects on a group of healthy workers, Brazil

September 2012 – Review of Aerosol Observations by Lidar and Chemical Analysis in the State of So Paulo Brazil

June 2012 – Asthma and allergies in Jamaican children aged 2–17 years: a cross-sectional prevalence survey

February 2012 – Pre-Harvest Sugarcane Burning: Determination of Emission Factors through Laboratory Measurements (Brazil)

January 2012 – Micronucleus formation induced by biomass burning particles derived from biomass burning induce high micronucleus frequency in Tradescantia pallida assay (TRAD-MN)

November 2011 – Short Term Effects of Air Pollution from Biomass Burning in Mucociliary Clearance of Brazilian Sugarcane Cutters

October 2011 – Sugar cane burning pollution and respiratory symptoms in schoolchildren in Monte Aprazível, Southeastern Brazil

June 2011 – Abstract: Increasing Incidence of Asthma, Allergy and Eczema in Rural Honduran Children

May 2011 – Mutagenic activity of airborne particulate matter (PM10) in a sugarcane farming area (Araraquara city, southeast Brazil)

July 2010 – Impact of outdoor biomass air pollution on hypertension hospital admissions

December 2010 – Work and health conditions of sugar cane workers in Brazil

December 2010 – PM2.5 and PM10: The influence of sugarcane burning on potential cancer risk

September 2008 – Comparative respiratory toxicity of particles produced by traffic and sugar cane burning

May 2008 – A preliminary characterization of the mutagenicity of atmospheric particulate matter collected during sugar cane harvesting using the Salmonella/microsome microsuspension assay

April 2008 – Sugarcane Burning in Brazil: Respiratory Health Effects

August 2007 – Air Pollution from Biomass Burning and Asthma Hospital Admissions in a Sugarcane Plantation area in Brazil

February 2007 – Respiratory health in Brazil

November 2006 – Effects of genetic polymorphisms CYP1A1, GSTM1, GSTT1 and GSTP1 on urinary 1-hydroxypyrene levels in sugarcane workers

 January 2006 – The Impact of Sugar Cane–Burning Emissions on the Respiratory System of Children and the Elderly

April 2004 – Biomass Burning and its Effects on Health

 May 2002 — Identification and seasonal variation of atmospheric organic pollutants in Campos dos Goytacazes, Brazil

 September 2001 – Sugar Cane (Saccharum officinarum L) Burning and Asthma in Southeast Louisiana, USA

October 2000 – Assessment of the Effects of Sugar Cane Plantation Burning on Daily Counts of Inhalation Therapy

August 1999 – Case-control Study of Lung Cancer Among Sugarcane Farmers in India

 Environmental Impacts

In addition to affecting people’s health, sugar field burning also affects our environment in a number of ways. Soot from sugarcane burning causes haze and contributes to the acidification of lakes, rivers and oceans. Particle pollution is also correlated to acid rain. In addition, important reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from sugarcane areas could be achieved by switching to greenharvesting.

How is sugar field burning regulated?

The Clean Air Act (CAA) is a federal law covering the entire country. Under the CAA, EPA sets limits on certain air pollutants, including setting limits on how much can be in the air anywhere in the United States. The six air pollutants (also known as “criteria pollutants”) that are regulated under the CAA are particle pollution (often referred to as particulate matter), ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead.

In Florida the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Resource Management, is the primary administrator of the CAA. The EPA must approve the state’s plan; if a plan does not meet the necessary requirements, EPA can issue sanctions against the state and, if necessary, take over enforcing the CAA. State, local, and tribal governments also monitor air quality, inspect facilities under their jurisdictions and enforce CAA regulations.

Florida is a “right to farm” state, meaning that agricultural operations are insulated from nuisance lawsuits. However, health and visibility concerns have been raised for years. As a result, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issues daily burn permits. The Florida Forest Service’s Web-Based Open Burn Authorization Request provides sugar growers the ability to apply for a permit on the same morning they burn through an automated system. From October to March, burning takes place 7 days a week including holidays.