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Cane Burning a Health and Environmental Hazard

Mindset of industrial agriculture/monoculture must change for the benefit of Maui.

May 24, 2012
Michael Howden · Former two-term chair of the Maui County Board of Water Supply, Permaculture Designer · Olinda - Former two-term chair of the Maui County Board of Water Supply, Permaculture Designer · Olinda , The Maui Weekly

At a time when there is greater understanding about the imminent health effects of numerous environmental factors, I find it surprising that The Maui News (Sunday, April 15) would publish such a blatantly one-sided lead article on cane burning. Surely, A&B's contention that their focus is "long-term, always with Maui and our neighbors' best interest at heart," is specious, if not dishonest.

The agriculture that we see on Maui's central plain is probably the greatest known health hazard on the island. HC&S is burning not simply cane, but plastic (PVC) irrigation parts, polyethylene plastics (drip irrigation lines) herbicides (inclusive of atrazine, a known hormonal "disruptor") and pesticides. This is a substantial health hazard, the effects of which are pervasive and insidious.

In addition, over 90,000 tons of low-grade Australian coal are burned yearly at the Pu'unene mill, simply to meet the company's contract with Maui Electric Company, which in turn speaks in glowing terms of HC&S' "sustainable" generation of electricity to help meet the needs of the Maui grid.

Then there is the question of public trust waters taken from both East Maui and Na Wai Eha. More than 200 million gallons per day are taken from the East Maui watershed, much to the detriment of Na Kua'aina (the "Native" tenants), and indeed, the watershed itself. The aquifers associated with Na Wai Eha, primarilly 'Iao and Waihe'e, are in a state of decline, with salinity rising in these aquifers more than 20 feet in the last 25 years, according to United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports and continued monitoring. This "taking" of public trust waters is clearly illegal, and has been the subject of extensive litigation for more than a decade. That the County of Maui pays for these waters only adds insult to injury.

Much of the public justification for burning cane seems to be that it cheaper to haul less weight to the Pu'unene mill, and easier to process what is left. That the fields are left bare and that substantial amounts of soil are simply blown away (often into residential areas) seems to Mr. Volner [HC&S general manager] and the management of A&B/HC&S to be "invariably, part of the farming process."

This is part of the mindset of industrial agriculture/monoculture, which sees the soil as something to be mined, rather than preserved for future generations. It is a mindset that gave us the Dust Bowl of the U.S. Midwest during the Great Depression.

It was ironic that next to where this lead article ended (on page 2) was a companion article entitled "Backyard burning banned," which reiterates many of the health concerns that characterize commercial large-scale burns, but on an infinitely smaller scale. Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander.



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