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HC&S cane burning under fire by environmental group

October 4, 2012
The Maui Weekly

Hawai'i News Now - An environmental group wants to put an end to cane burning on Maui. says smoke from operations at Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company (HC&S) is making residents sick and could potentially cause life-threatening illness. Last week, the two sides met to discuss concerns at the HC&S office in Pu'unene. members delivered a petition with more than 8,700 signatures to both HC&S and the state Department of Health asking officials not to issue an open-air burn permit to the 140-year-old company.

"Last year, when there was a really, really bad cane burn--several of them in Pa'ia-- where the smoke literally smothered people, as in, it was like your house was on fire," said Karen Chun from

The group said it has a number of peer-review published papers that link cane smoke to lung disease, especially for seniors and children. Its Website claims the sugar company --the last one remaining in Hawai'i--burns with "reckless disregard" to weather conditions. In response, HC&S said it's listened and tried to balance the public's health concerns while maintaining an 800-employee operation.

"We've done a lot of more advanced notification this year for people to find out, in advance, where and when we will be burning, and we've done improved weather collection data and analysis," said HC&S General Manager Rick Volner Jr. "We've also modified our burning practices to try to minimize impacts to neighbors."

The DOH states that HC&S continues to meet state and federal regulations on its 36,000 acres.

"They have to provide to us what exactly they're going to be burning, when they're going to be burning, the duration of the burning and the specific agricultural purpose," said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

The two sides say last week's talks were productive, although they agree to disagree on how best to move forward on the issue. HC&S' annual permit expires in mid-March. says it's contemplating a lawsuit if the agricultural burns aren't banned.



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