As Sugar Cane Fields Catch Fire, Business as Usual Must Go Up in Smoke

The Stop the Burn-Go Green Campaign leadership released the following statement on the first day of the pre-harvest sugar cane field burning season:

“As the sun rises today, October 1, 2023, another pre-harvest sugar cane field burning season dawns on the people in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area. Our call today is to the Palm Beach County Department of Health, which is one of the many accomplices of the sugar industry in its oppression of our communities and its concomitant attack on our public health.

Recent data reveals the burning truth: Sugarcane burning pollution contributes to an estimated 1 to 6 deaths annually in our communities. Those residing near these fields face a staggering 10-fold increase in mortality risk compared to those further away.

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Voices Behind the Smoke: Sugarcane Burning and the Impacts

Patrick Ferguson, Senior Organizing Representative for Sierra Club’s Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign, joins us to discuss the environmental impact of pre-harvest sugar burning.

Beginning in 2015, the Stop the Burn campaign focuses on the environmental and public health consequences of pre-harvest sugar field burning. We will explore the success of green harvesting alternatives, highlighting countries that have embraced this approach. We will also examine the advocacy initiatives undertaken by local leaders, farmers, consumers, and sustainable food advocates.

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FAU researchers secure $4.2 million for study on smoke exposure from agricultural fires & Alzheimer’s risk

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University plan to study the effects of smoke exposure from agricultural fires on the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in rural Palm Beach County.

The university and collaborators land a $4.2 million federal grant to focus on those living in rural areas along Lake Okeechobee, near the fields where pre-harvesting burning occurs.“

Small particles, what they call P.M., Particular Matter 2.5, is suspended in the air and when people breathe it in. It goes deep into the lungs, and it can to the brain and cause inflammation, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” FAU’s professor emeritus Christine Williams, Ph.D.

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Sugar-cane burning polices racially discriminate against people in Glades, complaint says

Citing federal civil rights law, the Sierra Club and its Glades-based Stop the Burn campaign are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice to investigate the Florida Forest Service’s practice of authorizing sugar-cane field fires that send smoke and ash over predominately Black communities while sparing largely white communities from the fires’ effects.

The group’s complaint filed Friday details state policies in place since 1991 to deny the fire permits when winds are blowing east toward Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and Westlake while allowing them when winds are blowing west.

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Sugarcane Burning in Palm Beach County, Miami

A new investigation into the practice of sugarcane burning in Palm Beach County. A Miami private school decides to do in-person classes. And evaluating children's mental health during the pandemic.

Every year from October until April, stretches of rural Palm Beach County are regularly blanketed in black ash coming from sugarcane fields. Students have worn bags over their heads on their walk to school so they don’t breathe in the smoke.

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The Problem of America’s Sugar Cane Growers

Driving west on Florida Route 98 from Palm Beach, the smoke is visible before the warning signs. Near the Lion Country Safari (“Florida’s only drive-through safari”), there are, far across a vividly-green expanse, dark gray clouds climbing into the sharp-blue sky. A minute later, by the roadside, comes the announcement, courtesy of the state transportation authority: “REDUCED VISIBILITY POSSIBLE.” If the immediate danger isn’t present, it’s nonetheless clear: You’re entering sugar country.

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They’re killing people by doing this

Why students at a school 40 miles from Mar-a-Lago can’t go outside.

The simple act of breathing has been a challenge for residents of the Glades, a small rural community in Palm Beach County, Florida, for as long as 13-year-old Kil’mari Phillips can remember.

In third grade, Phillips’ teacher always kept the classroom’s blinds closed so her students wouldn’t see the fire. One day, she forgot.

“Do you see this?” a classmate, seated by the window, asked Phillips. “Am I crazy?”
Even from the far side of the classroom, Phillips could see giant flames engulfing acres of sugarcane fields outside.

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Sugar field burning plagues poor Florida towns

For residents of the Glades, a string of poor, predominantly African American rural towns dotting the southern shore of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, the beginning of the annual sugar cane harvest in October means the arrival of “black snow.”

“You’d hate to come down here when it’s snowing,” said Kaniyah Patterson, an asthmatic 12-year-old who lives with her mother and grandmother in a housing project surrounded by several large sugar cane fields in the Palm Beach County community of Pahokee.

“That black stuff irritates me,” Kaniyah said, sighing. “Sometimes I can’t breathe.”

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Our Solidarity with Black Lives Matter

We, the Stop The Burn Campaign leadership and Sierra Club, believe systemic racism is a cancerous tumor that if not treated will ultimately prove fatal to our society. We believe injustice perpetrated on one is an injustice perpetrated on all. Injustice to one community is an injustice to all communities. Disproportionate police brutality on communities of color, mass incarceration, discriminatory lending practices, lack of access to health care, disproportionate exposure to pollution, and many other forms of racial discrimination imposed on black and brown people reflect a system that does not value all lives equally. Our society and collective humanity will continue to decay until our laws, principals and culture place a value on all human life equally, regardless of race or income. This is why both the Stop The Burn Campaign and the Sierra Club firmly stand in solidarity with protests and movements across the nation demanding an end to systemic racism in its many forms.

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“Stop the Burn” Campaign Goes to Brazil

Billowing smoke, falling ash, heavy chemical fertilizer, and pesticide applications -- these are some of the realities of large scale sugarcane production here in Florida. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I had the opportunity to visit Brazil in June to tour the Native Green Cane Project, where pre-harvest sugar field burning and chemical fertilizer and pesticide applications were abandoned years ago and replaced with sustainable, organic production methods. I witnessed a completely different paradigm of sugarcane agriculture in action, one that works with nature rather than against it. I came back with a lot to share about how sugarcane should and can be grown in Florida.

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