Toxic Air Pollution

Every year during the annual 6-8 month harvest season, residents living in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area are exposed to toxic air pollution on a near daily basis. This large scale open opening burning emits a wide variety of toxic pollutants including:

• Particulate Matter including (PM 2.5 ) (PM 10)
• Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)
• Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) such as
• Benzene
• Carbonyls such as Formaldehyde
• GreenHouse Gasses such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Carbon Monoxide (CO) Nitrogen Oxide (NOX)
• Dioxins such as polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and furans (PCDD/PCDFs)

Research indicates exposure to sugarcane burning emissions are linked to the following health problems:

• Respiratory ailments like, asthma, bronchitis, and COPD
• Cancer
• Kidney disease
• Cardiac disease
• Higher rates of preterm births, low birth weights, and infant mortality rates among pregnant mothers

The research shows both children and the elderly living closest to the sugarcane fields are the most vulnerable to the negative health impacts. Residents suffering from recurrent respiratory ailments have their symptoms exacerbated during the harvest season and many are told by their doctors that the best long term solution is for them to move to a region with better year-round air quality. This is not something many impacted residents have the resources or desire to do, nor should they have to.

“It’s sad when you go to the doctor and they ask you where you live and you say Belle Glade and they tell you to move. Everybody is not fortunate enough to just pick up and move. My family is here and it is so important that they [the sugar industry] be better neighbors.”

“As a leader and elected official of the city of South Bay I hear stories all the time, I see the stories. As a local business owner of a dance studio I see some of my kids have to miss dance because they are on breathing machines. And the asthma arises during this time. The asthma is so bad during the burning season that kids have to miss dance class and miss doing what they love and that’s sad.”

– Resident and former Mayor of the City of South Bay Shanique Scott

“It’s not disputed,” Mnatzaganian said of the health impacts of pre-harvest sugarcane burns. “The only thing that is disputed is: is it happening in your community? And I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be happening in [the Glades] community.”

– Dr. Christina Mnatzganian, author of Association between sugar cane burning and acute respiratory illness on the island of Maui

The 2008 Rosenwald Elementary School evacuation is an example of the threat posed by pre-harvest burning on nearby communities. In February of that year, six students from Rosenwald Elementary School in the city of South Bay were sent to the hospital and another nine were treated on sight after smoke from a nearby sugarcane burn seeped through vents and filled the school. The new school building constructed in 2015 was not the answer needed to protect its students; Rosenwald Elementary is still surrounded by sugarcane fields on three sides and are burned to this day, even during school hours.

Go to Resources for links to research on health and air quality.